Their recent history (last 35 years or so) started with a simple cereal bar – Nature Valley. It was a compressed bar with cereal grains, created during the “crunchy granola” age of the late 1960s/early ’70s. But not everyone wanted to bite into something that shattered the jaw, so Quaker Oats came up with a softer bar that still held the oats and granola, and the Chewy Granola Bar debuted in the mid-1970s.
A couple hundred bar-products later, what can you do to innovate an innovation? Maybe marry the idea of the food bar with a huge gap in the consumer diet: fruits and vegetables. Think Products of Ventura, Calif., has done just that with the think5 food bar, which promises the consumer two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables in a 2.53-oz. bar. Believe it or not.
You may have had bars with apple, pear, peach or cranberry ingredients, but ever had one with broccoli powder, spinach leaf powder, watercress powder – or any of a half dozen other vegetable ingredients? Here we look at the think5--Red Berry Flavor.
Understanding the marketplace
The recent revisions of the USDA’s food pyramid told people that for a good diet we need to go light on the fats and increase our intake of fruits and vegetables -- five to nine servings per day are recommended -- along with more fiber. USDA also wanted to focus people on the importance of food versus nutrients. Nutritionists wanted people to think about the quantity and quality of the food they were selecting for consumption on a daily basis.
Despite the pyramid and other reminders, consumers struggle to get more than one or two servings of fruits and vegetables.
Using the food bar format for fruits is not new. In a miniature way, it goes back to the Fig Newton. Big names in the food bar business -- Kellogg, Quaker Oats, General Mills, Unilever (Slim Fast) – as well as smaller companies like Larabar have been selling fruit (1/2 to 2 servings in a bar) for years.
Data suggest that food bars continue to be popular. Market size is estimated to be $1.3 billion for 2007, after healthy growth of 43 percent between 2002 and 2007, according to Mintel Intl. Cereal carbohydrates have been the customary base ingredient for all of these products.
Think Products is the brainchild of a model who wanted to create healthy functional snacks for people like herself. CEO Lizanne Falsetto brought her first product to market during the low-carb trend of the early 2000s. Seeing sales rise and then sink, she worked with a number of people to relaunch the product line with an eye toward forward-looking trends. In addition to the think5 bar, there are products such as thinkThin, thinkOrganic and thinkGreen (superfoods).
Falsetto & Co. knew others were successful with lower levels of fruits (up to two) and sought to up the ante to the full minimal portion of fruits and vegetables, five, in a familiar form.
Our Crave It!, Healthy You! and It!s Convenient insights tell us it’s really hard for parents to balance the nutrient needs of their kids and also to provide tasty food – just as it’s difficult for the adults to get their daily fruits and vegetables. So any product that promises a relevant amount of vegetables and fruits in an easy-to-eat, familiar form should be very interesting for people.
While there are a large number of products coming to market to help with this need (Flat Earth chips, breads with enhanced nutrients -- see our June review of Pepperidge Farm Double Fiber bread), mixing vegetables and fruits is different (although V8 V-fusion beverage does it).
The key trends in cereal bars are: taste, nutrition, weight management and convenience.
Taste: Mixtures of grains that can be sensed in combination with real sweeteners (sugar, honey, not corn syrup) are tastes people are looking for. People want to be able to chew and taste the grains. Fruit (large and chewy) is a preferred choice, and chocolate (a variation of the think5 bar) is never out of style. Nuts, yogurt and seeds are other ingredients that many people have become fond of in cereal bars.
Nutrition: Whole-grain and trans fat-free are descriptors people look for in their cereal bars. An interesting exclusionary statement that has been on the rise is “gluten-free.” This is extremely interesting in light of desire for whole grains. Soy protein has been a mixed bag recently, although other sources of protein from dairy have been on the good list for consumers.
Weight management: Product design that helps promote satiety is of interest to consumers. Balancing the number of calories in a food bar with a level of satiation (“keeps hunger down for four hours”) is highly desirable. Having sustained hunger relief and reduced calories (150 or less) is ideal.
Convenience: The rise of the food bar has coincided with the speed-up of life. A breakfast bar is the meal of choice for many parents as they run out the door for work. It gives men and women a small amount of relief by substituting for a candy bar for that mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack. It’s one of those foods that many people keep in their purse or drawer for a quick bite. The food bar is thought to be the better choice over chips for kids. The design is such that food bars can be eaten one-handed while driving or in a sport. It becomes easy to see why this food item has grown as much as it has over its 30-plus year career.
Think5 bars are available in red berry flavor or chocolate-covered red berry for $2.99 per bar -- or $29.90 for a box of 10 from the company web site. Packaging looks very "earth friendly" -- matte finish instead of glossy makes one think it's going to be very healthy and wholesome. The colors and feel of the package say this is not typical. The little pictures of carrots, broccoli and spinach plus a green apple and a red something (we think it’s an acerola berry) are cute.
Below the pictures is a statement: “5 cup bar.” To the right is the claim “3 cups of vegetables & 2 cups fruit for delicious nutrition on-the-go.” Other claims are gluten free, omega-3, and high in fiber. The bar is heavy – other bars this size weigh barely an ounce, but this one weighs in at 2.53 oz.
The look of the bar is otherworldly. The bar’s exterior appears to be a green so dark as to be brown, and inside are specks of green. It has a moist feel and looks thick and dense. The smell had a sweet earthiness, which some characterized as “typical of other energy bars,” but with a dried fruit note.
Some of our tasters could not get their kids to get past the look. Breaking the bar into pieces did not help; it was consistent all the way through, this dense, dark green color with specks. One taster described the flavor as “tasting like the inside of a health food store smells -- very vegetable/spice.”
The flavor is rather neutral with a blended “food” note that is not identifiable as much of anything. Except, for some flavors of vitamins, “like the breakfast drink mix taste before you add milk,” said one tester. Some claimed it left an unpleasant taste in their mouths, like the skin of grapes without the juice. Texture is dense and almost gritty, with the occasional fruit bit that sticks to one’s teeth. This is a bar that you definitely would not inhale – it is too dense with too much flavor complexity to chew down easily or quickly.
The bar has a small meal’s worth of calories at 250 (with five fruits and vegetables, this makes sense). The sodium is low and it has 23 percent of one’s fiber. With 4g of protein, the bulk of the bar is made up of carbs – after all, it is made up of fruit. It has a variety of vitamins, none at any over-the-top level.
The ingredient statement is impressive, calling the mixture of vegetable and fruit ingredients “the think5 blend.” There are fruit concentrates and oils like olive and sunflower seed, plus a claim of 130mg of omega-3 per serving. You have to read the story written by the owner in small lettering next to the ingredient statement to really be able to figure out the product.
Does the product deliver?
Probably. Most of the fruits and vegetables are in the form of powders – so we are not sure what that means about being real fruits and vegetables. It seems as though a lot of thought went into the types of ingredients to use in the bar. We tend to believe there probably are five veggies and fruits in this product. But this is a really complex food with a really complex thought behind it.
One of our moms said she would rather try to figure out how to get her children to eat three cups of vegetables that they did not like rather than trying to feed them this bar.
This is clearly a product developed for a need by people who are focused on getting that objective done. No classic form of product testing would have allowed this product to come to market. It is just too different and unusual (ergo unique).
How to make the idea bigger: Working on the product design could help the bar. Working on some of the tastes and definitely the dense texture would make the product more palatable and would not take away from the whole concept. The denseness could work into the bar’s favor, since chewing it takes a long time and can therefore be very satisfying and more meal-like. But you have to want to chew it. And for most, that was difficult.
Backing off on some of the added vitamins so the product does not have the lingering B-vitamin taste could also improve palatability and would not remove much of the nutrition.
The chocolate-covered bar (we tested the plain one) had a better appearance; still, we need a little different look to want to eat these. Another thought is to reduce the size so you could eat the item more easily. Think Products already has thought of this, we discovered, and offers 15g mini bars. That may not be as compelling a message, but it would be easier to chew down a “mini”-think5, which could be eaten like a snack treat, instead of the big bar.
Rating: OK. The execution sure is gutsy.
Market potential: The idea is swell. These guys are picking up a lot of consumer needs. People will copy them – but not quite