By Josh Masters
The energy bar was first introduced right here in the United States in 1987 by Powerbar™ who made the first vitamin-infused cereal bar in Berkeley, CA. The state of California became a global mecca for energy bars throughout the 1990’s with companies like Bio-Foods® and Clif Bar® manufacturing a healthy alternative to the granola bar option. Since then, a slew of other companies have jumped on the lucrative food bar wagon. Market research suggested that U.S. retail sales of food bars (cereal/ granola bars and energy/nutrition bars) totaled over $7.7 billion last year in 2015. The frenzied demand for a healthy and nutritious snack has now grown beyond the continental U.S. and into the international marketplace. As American manufacturers continue to pour quality, organic ingredients into their energy bar products, the global marketplace is paying attention.
The Irvine, CA based company PureFit® has been a leader in the nutrition bar export industry since 2001. Founder and CEO, Robb Dorf, states: “In many ways we revolutionized the industry. When we launched 15 years ago, the market was mostly “modified candy bars.” We forced our manufacturer, and others to follow, to make uncoated bars. The chocolate you still see on many bars is high in unhealthy saturated fat. We feel we really helped mold the industry to where it is today. We’re proud to say we are also the first bar ever marketed as “gluten-free,” long before it was popular”.
GoMacro® is a family-owned, small-town Wisconsin company that promotes the macrobiotic diet in their health bars. Macrobiotics, to be sure, is a vegetarian alternative diet that consists mainly of grains and legumes interspersed with nuts and fruits. I spoke with the company’s Vice President of Sales, Darian Alioto, who shared with me: “GoMacro® macro bars are 100% USDA organic, non-GMO project verified, gluten-free, soy free, dairy free, and certified vegan. Our philosophy is simple, plant-based ingredients the way nature intended them to be. We do not use any preservatives or artificial colors or flavors. We believe in ingredients that bring nutritional benefits to the body while being convenient and delicious”.
As a leader in healthy snack options, the KIND® company has been at the forefront of nutritional bars since 2004. A company spokesperson shared that “Our nuts & spices line is healthy, tasty and low in sugar. Each bar has 5 grams of sugar or less, which is 50 percent less sugar per bar than the average nutrition bar. Nuts & spices have a low glycemic index, are non-GMO, a good source of fiber and protein and, like all KIND® products, they are gluten free. Our newest innovation, Pressed by KIND®, is a convenient and tasty way to add two servings of fruit to your daily routine. This product is made with only fruit & chia or only fruit & veggies, has only five ingredients or less in each bar, contains no added sugar and is a good source of fiber. ‘Pressed’ has our shortest ingredient list yet”.
A premier natural snack bar company called Toosum™ operates out of Seattle, WA and specializes in gluten-free, non- GMO oatmeal bars. In a recent telephone interview, I spoke with Founder & Chief Executive Officer Peter M. Guyer. Toosum’s™ CEO told me that “Toosum is the only 100 calorie, gluten-free oatmeal bar on the market. They are certified non- GMO, gluten-free, Kosher, all-natural, and contain no preservatives. Our bars also have a high degree of fiber which keeps you satiated longer. They are also very heart- healthy and contain high anti-oxidants. Our oatmeal bars have high protein levels due to the nuts in every bar. Finally, all our bars have various fruits which contain anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Overall, Toosum™ bars are a great, convenient, quick, on-the-go, healthy, snack bar”.
The amalgamate compositions that formulate an all-natural, energy bar are laced with quite the complexity of organic ingredients. Let’s look at the three major, common ingredients constituting the nutrition bar: grains, nuts, and fruits. The USDA-FAS’s Global Agricultural Trade System (GATS) reported that the U.S. exported over $250 million in energy bar-specific grains (puffed brown rice, rolled oats, and rice flour), $1.4 billion in common nuts found in the bars (almonds, cashews, coconuts, walnuts) and over $288 billion in organic fruits (org apples, org grapes, org pears, org peaches/nectars, org cherries, org oranges, org lemons, org grapefruits, org limes, org strawberries, org berries, org blueberries, and org watermelons), around the world in fiscal year 2015. Of course, taken separately, each of these American- exported ingredients are used in a myriad of culinary recipes other than energy bars throughout the world. However, let’s just assume that a conservative 1% of these ingredients very specific to energy bars are used to manufacture energy bars in global factories. That translates to U.S. exports of nearly $3 billion worth of grains, nuts, and organic fruit ingredients imported overseas for the exclusive use of manufacturing and distributing energy bars.
There is a lucrative relationship that the aforementioned American energy bar companies have with their export markets overseas. Peter Guyer shared with me that Toosum™ is “now selling in China, Japan, Hong Kong, Mexico, Canada, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and the Dominican 12 Republic”. “Exports account for more than 30% of our sales”, said PureFit’s® C.E.O Robb Dorf. “We do a fair bit of business in the UAE, Canada and Singapore”. A KIND® snacks spokesperson relayed that “KIND® has a presence in markets that include France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Dubai, Panama and South Korea”. Regarding exports of GoMacro® energy bars, Mr. Alioto stated: “We are constantly getting international inquires. Outside of the U.S. and Canada, we are currently distributed in Australia and Japan for now”.
Each company is honing in on their primary international marketplaces, too. KIND® shared that “our greatest focus is centered on growing business in the UK, Canada and Mexico”. Mr. Guyer acknowledged that: “Right now, our two biggest markets are China and Saudi Arabia”. Dorf indicated that: “As far as target markets are concerned, I really have my heart on the UK, Japan and China. The UK, because they have a large gluten-free population. Japan, because they have a big appreciation for California products and they have disposable income to afford them. China, because they want PureFit® and they loved the bars!”
Looking ahead to the future of American energy bar exports, Mr. Alioto stated: “We need to be responsible and strategic in our approach when entering international markets. In Spring 2017, we’ll be completed with our production facility expansion plans and will be able to re-evaluate export opportunities in a bigger way since our production capabilities will increase. We see growth as consumers live busier lives and need convenient and healthy meal options. Further, we see more competition in the market, so as an American exporter in this space, it will be important to understand the needs and desires of consumers abroad and to carefully evaluate our offerings and how they align and solve problems for international consumers”. Mr. Guyer of Toosum™ concluded: “We will be developing other new, healthy, convenient, all-natural snack products in the future. We see promising markets in East Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. Our products have a high-value proposition, so therefore foreign consumers are willing to purchase our products at premium pricing”.
Envisioning the road ahead, PureFit®’s Robb Dorf stated: “I think it is realistic that we grow (our export sales) to 80%, but things need to change. The key is keeping the ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ as an indicator of the highest quality in the world. If foreign manufacturers cannot keep up with our quality, I can see the next five years as being very good. The Department of Commerce and Agriculture need to do a better job, too. Smaller companies like PureFit® rely on exports. If these government agencies could step up their game, I see a lot of positive”. The spokesperson from KIND® forecasted “Globally the desire for healthier and more transparent nutrition is growing. This trend has started in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand but is now gaining momentum in many European countries, in parts of Latin America, certain countries in Asia and even the Middle East.
Reprinted from the Winter 2016/2017 issue of The Natural Food Exporter Magazine