By: Dawn Letson | Category Manager

Snacking is on the rise everywhere we go. According to recent studies, 95% of adults in the U.S. snack daily, and 70% say they snack at least twice a day. That’s an increase of 5% versus 2018. What we choose to snack on is also evolving. Key factors in choosing a snack include fresh ingredients, portable packaging and portion size. Nutritional bars are the perfect fit for these growing trends, and convenience stores are still the best option for a quick, healthy snack. In fact, c-stores represent 19% of all nutritional bar sales, accounting for $1 of every $5 spent in the category.

More and more consumers are seeking foods to help manage a healthy lifestyle, making snack bars a perfect fit for a convenient on-the-go snack, meal replacement or workout boost. Lifestyle changes and wellness trends in general have invigorated the snack bar market with steady increases in both dollars and units over the past five years.

Currently, the top five brands represent nearly half the sales in the convenience channel for the category. Clif Bar leads with 17%, followed by Kellogg’s and Kind with 9% and 8% of category sales respectively. Brands like Quest and Lenny and Larry’s round out the top 5, and are driving the growth in convenience, while other top brands are relatively flat. 


Protein consumers aren’t served by a one-size-fits-all approach. There is a clear division between two distinct consumer groups. The first group represents young males who want more protein and the hunger satisfaction of bigger bars. These consumers are usually looking for bars that contain 25 or more grams of protein and contain at least 325 or more calories. These higher gram protein bars also drive the highest profits within the nutritional bar category. The second group represents women and mature males looking for moderate protein and calorie levels, containing 10 to 20 grams of protein and 120 to 220 calories. The mid-tier protein items, up to 20 grams, dominate the category with a 57.5% share and boast a 3.3% increase in dollars over prior year. Performance protein bars with 25+ grams of protein have growth opportunity, representing 15.6% of the category which is down 7.8%.

New and exciting forms of protein being introduced to the market continue to support many consumers’ needs, such as protein cookies. Cookies from Lenny & Larry’s and Quest continue to drive growth in the protein category. These new formats are very innovative, different and are great for multiple usage occasions such as a treat to satisfy a craving, an anytime snack or a pre or post workout snack. Many of these types of protein snacks contain high levels of protein, low sugar contents and many are free from gluten, GMOs and artificial ingredients.


The second largest bar segment in convenience is energy bars. The energy segment delivers 26% of total category bar sales in convenience and across all channels. Brands in this segment include Clif Bar, Power Bar Energy and Nature Valley Energy.


The healthy snack and functional nutrition segments have been expanding and now represent 20% of the nutrition bar category in the convenience channel. The healthy snacks segment is the fastest growing segment, representing a 9.7% increase versus last year. Kind holds the largest brand share (45%) and is growing 4.9% this year versus last year. These segments are comprised of brands with broad appeal, and the bars are often consumed as a healthier snack alternative. Some key brands include: Kind, Power Crunch and Think Thin.

The Keto Trend

It is estimated that 1/3 of Americans follow a specific diet or eating pattern, and 45% are actively trying to avoid refined sugar in the foods they eat. These, among other factors,  made Keto by far the most popular consumer diet trend in 2019. New Keto products are popping up everywhere, but most notably in nutritional sets. 

Marketing Strategies/Merchandising Your Nutritional Set

Improvements in planograms could lead to a 7-10% growth in sales, proving that shelf organization of nutrition bars is critical to meeting your shopper’s needs and maximizing sales potential within the convenience channel. The nutrition bar section should be organized by segment along a natural to conventional continuum, because this is how a shopper makes purchasing decisions. At the shelf, like-items should be grouped together for ease of shopping and comparison.

Block items first by segment, then by brand.

When allocating space across the nutrition bar segments, consider the percentage of sales and sales trends.

Place protein bars on bottom shelves. Consumer research has shown that shoppers will search for their protein bar of choice. Highly targeted protein bars also tend to be larger which allows them to thrive towards the bottom of the set.

In-store location is another important factor in driving nutrition bar sales. Nutrition bars can be a profitable impulse purchase at convenience stores, and therefore secondary placement is highly impactful. A high-traffic endcap should be dedicated for new healthy items, and as you identify winners on the endcap, you can then try to incorporate them into your regular sets. These types of locations, in addition to counter units near your coffee bar or checkout and placement alongside fresh fruit, all complement the nutritious, on-the-go nature of bars.

As snacking continues to become increasingly convenient and portable, the convenience channel is primed to continue significant growth. Evolving with consumer needs through new product innovation, optimized assortment across all segments and a thoughtful shelving strategy will drive category sales for years to come.

Better-For-You Strategies

Over the past couple of years, marketers have touted the influence Millennials exert in the retail space, and one of the more persuasive trends this group has initiated is the desire for better-for-you snacks. Because the 18 to 34-year-olds are less likely to sit down to full meals and more likely to snack throughout the day, they’re looking for food choices that will satiate them for extended periods.

A national study by Amplify Snack Brands and the Center for Generational Kinetics also indicates Millennials have been the driving force behind the growth of the better-for-you snack category. Among the findings, 64% of Millennials believe that fewer ingredients mean a healthier snack, more than any other generation. In addition, 79% of Millennials said that understanding all the ingredients increases their level of trust in a packaged snack. This trend has created a thriving market for so-called alternative snacks, those made using vegetables and grains such as chickpeas, sweet potatoes, kale and spinach. For the second consecutive year, alternative snacks, a category driven by protein and energy-rich items, reached the top 10 in-store merchandise categories, also signaling a desire by consumers for immediate and healthier snacking options.

Marketing & Merchandising Strategies

To get the most out of better-for-you snacks, incorporate them into the existing sets, adjacent to the regular snacks, where customers are already doing their snack shopping. Signage should be used to draw attention to the new products. Recent research shows that placing healthier items on or near the sales counter is an effective way to help consumers grab something good to eat and get them on their way. Displaying healthy items in multiple locations increases the likelihood that they will be seen by consumers. You can also unexpectedly place healthier items where a consumer would normally look for indulgent options. Consumer choice can then be maintained, while creating new, unanticipated options that are more likely to grab their attention. Co-merchandising complimentary products is also a viable option.


Qualitative Key Findings Report, AQR – Anderson Qualitative Research, Inc.

Neilson CY 2018 – SPINS Total US CY 2018

IRI L52 WE 09-08-19

McLane MPULSE data, Q3 2018 vs 2019