Whether as the new version of fast food or as meal replacements, the nutrition/energy bar and drink have become firmly established in modern, busy lives. And with good reason. Even if energy and staving off hunger are the immediate goals, most bars are formulated with a good nutritional foundation, and they go a long ways in fighting obesity.
Nutrition bars have been struggling through a simultaneous crowding and muddying of the field. A scan across the bar section of any supermarket shelf shows how everyone with a dream and a certified kitchen has managed to get their version of a sports/health/energy bar out.
Products typically are either grain-based or nougat-cored, typically representing, respectively, "breakfast" or … whatever meal is missed. All tout, alone or in combination, protein, vitamins, minerals, stimulants … and usually chocolate. Candy bars and cookies for busy (and guilt-ridden) grown-ups. But there's been an effort to shift at least slightly away from that paradigm.
For the population aiming for health food, the trend is definitely toward healthier products such as nutritional bars, protein bars and power bars.
A nuttier approach
One of the biggest ingredient shifts in helping effect such change is a much more liberal use of nuts. Nuts once were seen as too high-calorie/high-fat an ingredient. But today's consumer is a little better informed about the health benefits of nuts, as sources of both energy and healthy fats. So bar makers have started to pack them in.
One sterling example of the trend is Kind Healthy Snacks LLC, New York. The company makes what it describes as "all natural whole nut and fruit bars made from ingredients you can see and pronounce." See an example of a Kind Health Snack Bar on FoodProcessing.com. Combining marketing savvy with a pure and simple bar product that delivers exactly as advertised, its freshness of approach and rapid success is made all the more ironic by the fact its product is so completely atavistic.
Another addition to bars has been more exotic flavorings. In addition to the customary fruits, nuts and protein, Lärabar adds natural spices, such as ginger or cocoa, plus essential fatty acids, complex carbohydrates and many phytochemicals.
"Instead of carrying around a bag of nuts and a bruised banana, you can have a Lärabar — a delicious whole food that is a perfect healthy and convenient on-the-go snack," says Lara Merriken, founder of the Denver company.
Clif Bar, Emeryville, Calif. recently introduced Clif C, a lightly baked combination of fruits, nuts and sea salt. It joins a stable of whole-grain bars that includes Clif Kid and Clif Crunch.
One way to pack meal-sized protein into a bar is to make innovative use of naturally protein-rich foods, such as soy. Builder's Bar, another Clif Bar product, packs in 20g of protein from soy and nuts into each bar.
"Nutrition bars are a great vehicle for many reasons," says David Hart, business development and marketing manager for Herbamed Ltd., Rehovot, Israel. "They're considered ‘healthy' in the minds of the consumer, and of course are very convenient." Herbamed, an ingredient company, recently stepped out to develop its own nutrition bar — one clinically proven to reduce cholesterol.
"This is our first foray into the world of consumer packaged goods and it also is part of the next generation in functional food," says Hart. "In contrast to functional foods as we currently know them, the next generation of functional food is characterized by products with clinical evidence, innovative ingredients and a substantiated and easy-to-understand health benefit."
The Herbamed bar provides energy, while being fairly low in calories and high in fiber, yet it also provides a unique combination of phytosterols plus a unique citrus-based ingredient to reduce cholesterol. Phytosterols, also known as plant sterols, are the plant counterparts of cholesterol, which occurs only in animals. Phytosterols naturally reduce the amount of dietary cholesterol absorbed.
"The nutrition bar format allows us to bring a clear and necessary health benefit in a product that is very accessible to consumers, giving them multiple quick consumption options," adds Hart.
General health benefits from phytochemicals are also a growing niche for bar ingredients. "Previously energy bars were considered only for replacing a meal for dieters or as a low-calorie, pre/post workout snack," says Karina Bedrack, sales manager for LycoRed, Orange, N.J. "Carotenoids can be added to nutritional energy bars and provide important health benefits such as important antioxidant, cardiovascular, UV-light protection for outdoor activities and others."
Who wants to wash down a healthy bar with a sugary soft drink? There are lots of alternatives, from naturally flavored waters to pure fruit and vegetable juice combinations to virtual meals in a glass.