The cereal-bar category experienced exceptional growth in the past decade, with the number of food-bar products increasing greatly between 1990 and 1999.
As a possible indication of consumers' tastes, General Mills' new Milk 'n Cereal bars are selling so quickly the company has had to limit the number that retailers can order. However, the crunch is easing now.
The snack bar/granola bar category came about as a convenience food superceding bulk granola -- the grain, nut and dried-fruit mix that was, and still is, a standby of independent natural-products retailers.
Invented 26 years ago, the snack bar/granola bar category grew by 8% last year, bringing food stores more than $1 billion in sales for the year ended Feb. 25, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago. Total sales in all three channels (food, drug and mass market) were $1.39 billion, up almost 10% for the year.
Quaker Oats, Chicago, with its Chewy Snack Bars and Chewy Granola Bars, leads among the Top 20 brands, IRI says, with sales of $152.2 million for the year, an increase of 17.8% in dollars and 18.8% in units. Yet Kellogg's ranks first among vendors, with sales of $321 million, a decrease of 4.8% from the previous year. Kellogg's makes Nutri-Grain Bars, Rice Krispies Treats Snack Bars, Nutri-Grain Twists and Nutri-Grain Fruit Filled Squares, all of which rank among the top 20.
Big gains were made by Slim Fast Snack Bars, up 37% and in fourth place, and by Nature Valley Snack Bars, up 37% and in sixth place on IRI's list.
Nutri-Grain bars were introduced in January 1991, Kellogg's said. They started out at Kellogg's as "Smart Start Cereal Bars" in 1989, and the name was changed to Nutri-Grain bars in 1991.
Quaker Chewy Granola Bars were launched in 1981 in four flavors, according to Stephanie Roth, marketing manager, snack bars, for the manufacturer. The brand has a 39% share, she said. Today, there are 13 flavors, including Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Raisin, Apple Berry and the latest addition, made with Nestle Baby Ruth pieces.
Quaker's other product among the Top 20 is Fruit and Oatmeal Snack Bars, which holds eighth place, having dropped in dollar sales by 4.8%.
In order they are: Quaker Chewy Snack Bars, Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Bars, Kellogg's Rice Krispies Treats Snack Bars, Slim Fast Snack Bars, private-label snack bars, Nature Valley Snack Bars, Sunbelt Snack Bars, Quaker Fruit & Oatmeal Snack Bars, Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Twists, Power Bar Snack Bars, Balance Bar Snack Bars, Kudos Snack Bars, Ultra Slim Fast Snack Bars, Little Debbie Snack Bars, Atkins Diet Advantage Bar, Clif Snack Bars, Sunbelt Cereal Bars, Clif Luna Snack Bars, Nabisco Fruit N Grain Snack Bars, and Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Fruit Filled Squares.
Consultant Jay Jacobowitz, president of Retail Insights, Brattleboro, Vt., said Nature Valley, from General Mills, was the first brand of bars.
"I think this was one of the first mass-market attempts to capitalize on what was going on in the natural products industry," Jacobowitz said. He noted that Nature Valley was always made by General Mills, rather than being acquired. A General Mills spokeswoman, Liv Lane, confirmed that, and added that the bars were introduced in 1975.
Debbie Esparza, senior buyer in grocery purchasing for the Unified Western Grocers' division based in Commerce, Calif., recently told SN that "we just put in the Nature Valley Chewy Trailmix bar made by General Mills. The trend is up in what General Mills is doing with their cereal bars," she said.
Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass., has Milk 'n Cereal bars in all 45 of its supermarkets, although a spokeswoman for the retailer could not say if it was difficult to obtain sufficient quantities of the product. The bars come in three flavors and are said to provide "The nutrition of a bowl of cereal with milk in a single bar" as an on-the-go solution to breakfast.
The average retail price for one six-serving box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Honey Nut Cheerios or Chex Milk 'n Cereal Bars is $2.89. The bars were introduced last August in the Northeast and were rolled out nationally Jan. 2, 2001.
Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., will soon introduce its latest snack bar, called Krave. It's in test market now in five cities, with a national rollout planned for 2002, according to Kellogg spokeswoman Meghan Parkhurst. She said the bar is positioned as an alternative to a candy bar, rather than as the more cereal-like granola bar product. "It's for when you're craving something, but you don't want to blow the diet," she said.
Some of the more spectacular percentage increases were garnered by Clif Luna bars (a 355% increase) and the Atkins Diet Advantage Bar (313%), while the Little Debbie Snack Bars and Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Fruit Filled Squares were each up by 52%.
General Mills' Milk 'n Cereal bars are new to the category. Other General Mills brands in the category are Golden Grahams Treats and Betty Crocker Sweet Rewards, but both are slumping and did not make the Top 20.
Two more companies are getting on the bandwagon with products addressed to female consumers. Zoe Foods, St. Paul, Minn., introduced a new Flax & Soy bar at the Expo West show in Anaheim in March, and Balance Bar came out with Oasis, which it describes as a new wellness bar for women that includes iron, calcium and folic acid.