What’s the next step in nutritional bars? Nellson shines a light on sugar, protein and fiber trends
March 22, 2021 — North American nutritional bars and functional powders specialist Nellson publishes a white paper detailing his findings on the latest developments in the nutritional bar category.
The document emphasizes the importance of protein supply, sugar and fiber content and other functional ingredients.
Nutrition bars have been a rapidly evolving product category since their inception in the United States by NASA, which in 1962 developed an “unfrozen balanced energy stick in stick form containing nutritionally balanced amounts of carbohydrates, fat and protein ”.
Since then, nutritional bars have come a long way, says Nellson. The demographics and psychographics of consumers have changed and flavors and formats have evolved.
“Today’s market is focused on improving taste and texture, as well as an ever-growing array of functional benefits. From plant-based proteins to low-carb solutions, probiotics and more, we’re moving fast to help brands get it right and get to market quickly, ”said Bart Child, Commercial Director of Nellson.
Protein content has long been a key buying driver in nutrition bars, notes Nellson. Athletes use high protein nutritional bars to improve performance and rebuild muscle after training, while dieters snack on them to stay full between meals.
Nellson points to research showing that 52% of consumers say the amount of protein is important to them when choosing a nutritional bar, while 34% say the source of protein is important.
However, with the arrival of new sources of protein on the market, manufacturers are facing new development challenges.
“While many athletes swear by whey protein, other consumers feel comfortable with plant sources like peas, rice and soy. High levels of vegetable protein can lead to drying and hardening during shelf life, a chalky appearance, vegetal notes and non-enzymatic browning, ”the paper notes.
Soy tends to be less of a problem as a source of protein, but is often viewed by consumers with a “slightly negative” perception. Nellson therefore advises addressing the difficulties associated with pea and rice protein.
“Formulators need to screen multiple raw materials and carefully select the best combination for each application. They must explore congruent flavor profiles and masking technologies. Everything can be done – and well enough – but it takes real expertise. ”
New sources of protein like pumpkins, sunflowers and beans have started to emerge, and each will present new challenges for the industry, the company notes.
The sugar challenge
Last year, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) introduced new labeling challenges that are dramatically affecting the nutritional bar market.
The Nutrition Facts signs should now show the amount of added sugars and total sugars. Additionally, brands can only count dietary fiber from particular sources.
In terms of sugar content, Nellson notes that formulators try to reduce both natural sugars (like those in fruit pieces) and added sugars.
This presents challenges, however. Sugar syrups provide essential functionality to nutritional bars by binding proteins and other inclusions and helping the bars maintain their softness and suppleness.
“Removing the binding syrup completely, as some keto-friendly bar products have done, requires strict manufacturing control to maintain product integrity.
Other manufacturers have tried replacing sugar syrups with sugar alcohol like maltitol, which helps bind but has potential gastrointestinal side effects.
The use of fiber syrups is another alternative but can be very drying without sophisticated optimization of the formula.
Allulose, a rare sugar that is not metabolized by the body, is not counted in added or total sugars. Together with other binders, it has “superb potential as a sugar reducer,” says Nellson. Its approval is still pending in some countries.
Fiber formulation issues are also tricky, notes Nellson. Under the new FDA regulations, carbohydrates can only be declared as fiber if they are “intact, naturally occurring as a plant ingredient, or known to provide positive physiological benefits to human health.”
This poses many reformulation puzzles, the company concedes.
For example, a binder common in low-carb bars – isomalto-oligosaccharides (IMO) – has not been approved as a source of fiber by the FDA.
So fiber content dropped after the decision, while sugars and carbohydrates exploded. Now, brands that take advantage of this ingredient are scrambling for other sources of fiber or sugar alcohol syrups to lower their net carbs.
Edited by Louis Gore Langton
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