Brilliant bars: overcoming the latest formulation challenges

Bars have become a mainstay of the healthy snack category, a quick and easy hit of nutrition for consumers leading increasingly busy and active lifestyles. Despite their continued rise to popularity, however, the market is far from reaching a peak, reports Paul O’Mahony, Senior Product Manager, Glanbia Nutritionals

In fact, protein and energy bars are expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.4% between 20219 and 2024. With more and more consumers eschewing their regular mealtimes for on-the-go alternatives, there is plenty of room for movement.

The challenge of creating new and exciting tastes and textures, however, lies in formulation. Bars are a blank canvas for a whole host of bold flavours, and snack manufacturers must strike a balance between meeting the latest trends and developing products that appeal to consumers — with an appropriate shelf-life — too.

Conscious indulgence

As the popularity of bars grows even further, manufacturers are increasingly looking to stand out with mainstream consumers. Now, more than ever, people are seeking convenient, luxurious alternatives to their favourite snacking products — while still maintaining a healthy profile.

In fact, nutrition and enjoyment are converging, with 32% of UK consumers now seeing a snack as an indulgent treat. Texture has become one way in which manufacturers can ensure that their products stand out in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

However, delivering a premium texture is not always easy, particularly when incorporating high levels of protein into a formulation. High protein bars formulated without considering ingredient interaction often suffer from a chalky mouthfeel and tend to harden with time.

This is in stark contrast to the lighter, whipped, more aerated textures that today’s consumers are craving. There is also growing demand for protein incorporated into more parts of the bar, outside of the dough layer where it is usually found.

Coatings, fillings and inclusions such as caramel or chocolate present an extra challenge for manufacturers looking to get high protein content but maintain great taste. Glanbia Nutritionals has used its expertise to develop the BarPro and BarFlex protein solutions to help meet this growing trend and overcome the common challenges faced by formulators.

Standing the test of time

Another key challenge facing formulators is the hardening of bars with time. With the rapid pace of new product launches, this is not necessarily problematic right away. However, we have helped many brands that discover this issue and seek out Glanbia Nutritionals in search of a solution. Maintaining a great taste and texture without facing a shelf-life issue down the road is key to ensuring product consistency and, ultimately, consumer satisfaction.

As with the addition of protein, any small adjustments to other ingredients will inevitably change the resulting shelf-life. Replacing or supplementing ingredients in any products needs careful planning and execution — it is certainly not a simple method.

As such, formulators are increasingly choosing to collaborate on their R&D efforts to gather further applications expertise and get their creations to market quicker. Glanbia Nutritionals’ range of bar solutions and premixes, along with our application expertise, can help formulators to navigate formulation challenges and create bar concepts that appeal to a wide range of consumer in search of healthy snacking options.

The growth of plant-based diets on snacking

One trend that is not showing any signs of slowing down is plant-based protein fortification. It continues to be a huge driver in buying behaviour, combining consumers’ unwavering commitment to incorporating more protein into their diet and their growing interest in sustainability.

In fact, 39% of UK consumers are looking to consume plant-based protein, according to recent research. Indeed, bars provide the ideal vehicle for the next generation of plant-based ingredients. Whether it is soy or pea, rice, hemp or wheat, the protein source of choice has diversified extensively. Product launch data from Mintel shows an impressive 24% of Europe protein and snack bar launches contained plant proteins in 2019.

Although interest is high for the use of plant protein in bars, consumers are not willing to compromise on taste and texture. Plant proteins are often drier than other protein sources, creating a crumblier texture that can detract from their enjoyment.

Additionally, incorporating pea protein can bring a bitter aftertaste. As a result, Glanbia Nutritionals has worked to develop BarHarvest Pea Protein as an allergen free, gluten-free and Kosher protein ingredient that delivers excellent tasting protein and performance in beverages and ready to eat foods.

Innovating to succeed

When it comes to addressing the challenges facing bar manufacturers, collaboration is crucial. For Glanbia Nutritionals, we have optimised our business model to include working alongside brands and manufacturers from the initial ideation stage through to developing the final recipe with them.

The pace of the bar innovation has dramatically changed — even in the last 3 years. Whereas in the past, taking a new product to market might take up to 2 years, brands now want to launch a bar in 6 months — highlighting its extremely competitive nature.

With continued growth in the bars category expected, where will trends go next? We predict exciting flavours and crunchy textures are on the horizon. New formats beyond bars are also likely to grow, with increasing interest in applications such as cookies and bites.

Suppliers, such as Glanbia Nutritionals, are going beyond “just” ingredients to offer extensive applications knowledge, market insights and formulation expertise, helping brand owners to develop their own recipes to take to market. As such, collaboration is helping to move the dynamic healthy snacking sector forward … with plenty more new creations coming to retail shelves soon.

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