Those of us that has been in the fitness CPG space for any considerable amount of time have had more than our fair share of protein bars. We have had some amazing protein bars and some less appealing, but they have come a LONG way since Bob Hoffman launched his soy-based bar in the 1950s. It is estimated that the global protein bar market will reach approximately $900M at the end of 2018 with the CAGR growth of around 4% up into 2023. That is a pretty big opportunity but if you look at the larger parent “functional foods” category you see that the opportunity for other protein applications are even more immense. As for strictly high protein bars (ones that FDA deems to contain 20 percent or more of the RDI or the DRV per reference amount customarily consumed), if you have been in the fitness CPG space, you have these protein bars launch, grow, and then fade off into the sunset. This sub-category also equates to about 50% of the overall protein bar global revenue number. Adoption of high protein snacks are usually fast but competition over the last 5 years has made new entrants struggle without the proper plans. Don’t get me wrong, protein bars are great and meet a variety of consumer needs but is it time for more protein-packed options?

Current “Alternatives” to Protein Bars

Protein Cookies

In the last few years, the sports nutrition market has seen protein cookies become a line extension for brands that have protein bars. These protein cookies have seen massive success and very fast adoption from consumers. They are also generally pretty easy to find production for as existing contract manufacturers have capabilities and the ingredient decks are similar to protein bars.

Protein Nut Butters

Another protein application in the last few years, has been to nut butters. These protein nut butters usually consist of a general nut butter base, flavorings, and a protein source. Adoption of the protein nut butters have been strong but some consumers complain about the gritty mouth feel. The space is also highly competitive with fairly low levels of merchandising at grocery and mass channels.

What’s next?

If you follow the sports nutrition and fitness CPG space, you have seen some launches of products in 2018 that are more on the confectionery side. Some of the recent ones include:

  1. Optimum Nutrition Protein Chocolate Covered Almonds – https://www.optimumnutrition.com/en_US/products/protein-almonds
  2. Performix Protein Bark – https://performixdriven.com/products/protein-bark
  3. MyProtein High Protein Chocolate – https://www.myprotein.com/sports-nutrition/high-protein-chocolate/11253897.html

So, is this a trend to jump aboard or is it better to stick to more traditional protein bars and cookies?

I always look for outside inspiration when coming up with product development plans for clients. It is usually best to see what other categories are doing with similar market conditions. The copy-cat nature of sports nutrition will only get you so far in your revenue aspirations. For this scenario, the “added protein” evolution in food and beverage is just getting started so I don’t see this being a bad place to innovate if you have the cash flow, manufacturing contacts, and sales strategy. I also see some opportunities for licensing or partnership deals if you can lock in someone that understands the needs to get “healthier” with their brand.

Finally, I think if you are going dairy protein you have many of the traditional confectionery routes that you can explore remaking in the next few years. If you are going more plant proteins, I would stick to more traditional applications as the market is less saturated in both e-commerce and grocery/mass channels. As for flavors, I think the market is ready for innovations that are on-trend to some of the popular emerging food and beverage brands. The normal Chocolate, CH Peanut Butter, and whatever else is played out and not very playful in a new economic environment that enjoys food exploration. Take some chances, you won’t regret it!