What’s next in nutrition bars? Nellson highlights sugar, protein and fiber trends
22 Mar 2021 --- North American nutrition bar and functional powder specialist Nellson is releasing a white paper detailing its findings on the nutrition bar snack category’s latest developments.
The paper highlights the importance of protein sourcing, sugar and fiber content and other functional ingredients.
Nutrition bars have been a rapidly evolving product category since their inception in the US by NASA, which in 1962, developed a “non-frozen, balanced energy stick in rod form containing nutritionally balanced amounts of carbohydrate, fat and protein.”
Since then, nutrition bars have come a long way, asserts Nellson. Consumer demographics and psychographics have changed and flavors and formats have evolved.
“The market today is focussed on delivering better taste and textures – and an ever-increasing array of functional benefits. From plant-based proteins to low carb solutions, probiotics and more, we move quickly to help brands get it right and get to market fast,” says Nellson’s chief commercial officer Bart Child.
Protein content has long been a key purchase driver in nutrition bars, notes Nellson. Athletes use nutrition bars with high protein content to elevate performance and rebuild muscle after workouts, while dieters snack on these to remain satiated between meals.
Nellson highlights research showing 52 percent of consumers say protein quantity is important to them when choosing a nutrition bar, while 34 percent say protein source is important.
With new sources of protein hitting the market, however, manufacturers are facing new development challenges.
“While many athletes still swear by whey protein, other consumers are getting comfortable with plant-based sources like pea, rice and soy. High levels of plant-based proteins can lead to drying and hardening over shelf life, chalkiness, vegetal off-notes and non-enzymatic browning,” notes the paper.
Soy tends to have fewer problems as a protein source but is often viewed by consumers with a “slightly negative” perception. Nellson, therefore, advises that the difficulties associated with pea and rice proteins should be addressed.
“Formulators must screen multiple raw materials and carefully select the best combination for each application. They must explore congruent flavor profiles and masking technologies. It can all be done – and quite well – but it takes real expertise.”
Newer protein sources like pumpkin, sunflower and fava bean have begun to emerge, and each will present fresh challenges for industry, notes the company.
The sugar challenge
Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) introduced new labeling challenges that significantly affect the nutrition bar market.
Nutrition facts panels must now indicate the amount of added sugars and total sugars. Furthermore, brands can only count dietary fiber from particular sources.
In terms of sugar content, Nellson notes formulators are trying to reduce both naturally occurring sugars (such as those in fruit chunks) and added sugars.
This presents challenges, however. Sugar syrups bring essential functionality to nutrition bars by binding proteins and other inclusions and helping bars retain softness and pliability.
“Removing the binding syrup entirely, as some keto-friendly bar products have done, requires tight manufacturing control to maintain product integrity.
Other manufacturers have tried replacing sugar syrups with sugar alcohol like maltitol, which helps binding but has potential gastrointestinal side effects.
Using fiber syrups is another alternative but can be very drying without sophisticated formula optimization.
Allulose, a rare sugar that’s not metabolized by the body, is not counted in added or total sugars. In concert with other binders, it has “superb potential as a sugar reducer,” says Nellson. Its approval is still pending in some countries.
Problems with fiber formulation are also tricky, notes Nellson. Under the new FDA regulations, carbohydrates may only be declared as fiber if they are “intact, naturally occurring as a plant ingredient, or deemed to provide positive physiological benefits to human health.”
This poses many reformulation headaches, concedes the company.
For example, a common binder in low-carb bars – isomalto-oligosaccharides (IMO) – was not approved as a fiber source by the FDA.
Fiber content consequently dropped after the ruling, while sugars and carbohydrates went through the roof. Now, brands leveraging this ingredient are scrambling for other fiber sources or sugar alcohol syrups to bring their net carbs back down.
By Louis Gore-Langton
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