What Does the Post-COVID Protein Bar Market Look Like?

protein bar with almonds, blueberries, and peanuts on the table

Over the past year, the market for healthy and nutritious snacks has seen exponential growth; it is projected to reach $108 billion by 2027. Mainly spurred by the shift in consumer behavior during the pandemic, we expect these pandemic buying behaviors to persist from consumers all over the world as we enter a post-COVID world: nutrition at the forefront of their buying decisions. 

Protein bar brands should look into manufacturing innovative protein bars that offer both convenience and functionality as the world opens back up. If you’re looking to seamlessly navigate the protein bar market in a post-COVID world, check out the main industry trends that protein bar companies like yourself will need to leverage to find success.

The Post-COVID Protein Bar Market 

The protein bar market will reach the billion dollar mark within the next few years. We can attribute this growth to three main driving forces: the rise of eCommerce and the role of convenience, all combined with the increasingly health-focused consumer preference. Despite the recent challenges faced by the market and manufacturers, the persisting appeal of protein bars will continue to generate unprecedented returns in a post-COVID world.

Moving forward, many CPG snack entrepreneurs will need to emphasize health and diet-conscious offerings to capture consumer attention. Innovation is key in this industry and brands that offer ready-to-go nutritional snacks catered to the hottest diet trends will win. With this in mind, here’s how small CPG businesses can leverage protein bars to seize market share and stay on the cutting edge. 

1. Healthy Office Protein Bars

As workplaces reopen, healthy office snacks, like protein bars, are going to play a big role in the back-to-work transition. Protein bars are perfect for a midday boost and offer quick and convenient nutrition. Whether it be providing them in the break room or bringing them to work from home, individually wrapped protein bars offer a variety of benefits as a healthy and hygienic snack: they are portable, nutrient-dense, and come in a variety of flavors. Not to mention, they also accommodate a variety of dietary preferences. 

Ingredients that boost both energy and mood, such as superfoods, fibers, whey protein, and adaptogens will be important for protein bar businesses looking to enhance the back-to-work experience. Additionally, brands will have to start offering high protein or weight-loss protein bars that improve workers’ overall nutrition and health for higher sales. Keep in mind that affordability and hygiene concerns will drive demand for value-for-money and single-serve packaging, highlighting the further need for protein bars to deliver comfort and health. 

2. Functional Protein Bars

Functional protein bars can help consumers fill the nutrient gaps in their diets and provide a daily nutrition boost for optimal wellbeing. Coming out of the pandemic, CPG snack brands that formulate with immunity-supporting and stress-reducing ingredients will resonate with health-minded snackers. Think about using functional ingredients that’ll work well with your protein bars, such as plant-based sweeteners, adaptogens, plant protein, and MCT oil. These ingredients provide consumers with high levels of macronutrients and healthy fats that will maximize the nutritional value of each serving. Also, don’t forget that today’s consumers increasingly look for “Clean Label” products, so try to stay away from additives, preservatives, or artificial ingredients. 

Recipe formulation can require a lot of time and money on your part so think about working with a protein bar co-manufacturer and co-packer. Collaborating with a protein bar co-manufacturer will allow you to develop a protein bar formula that meets and exceeds the nutritional and dietary needs of your customers. In addition to having the infrastructure and equipment to manufacture protein bars, co-packers offer full turnkey solutions and greater scalability options relative to prospective sales, regulatory compliance insights for those seeking a diverse array of certifications (i.e. organic, vegan, kosher certifications), and industry insights with regard to market preferences. 

Protein Shake on table

3. Protein Powders

Another lucrative market in this post-COVID protein bar market comes in the form of protein powders. According to market research, protein powders currently generate $18 billion in sales. You can either incorporate protein powders in your nutritional snacks, like cereals, crackers, and chips, to add that extra boost or sell protein powders as their own. Either way, protein powders offer consumers increased flexibility and versatility as they come in a wide range of formats - such as whey protein, pea protein, almond protein, soy protein, or chickpea protein - and can be consumed in a variety of ways, like protein shakes or baking mixes.

To stand out in the protein powder market, formulate your powders to be sugar-free, non-GMO, or gluten-free. These nutritional claims will give your consumers, especially those that are extremely conscious of what goes in their body, added confidence in the integrity of the products they are consuming. 

4. Beyond Protein Bars: Emerging Innovative Snacks

As much as we love protein bars, keep in mind that bars are not the only way to provide nutrition and value to your consumers. Offering protein bars in innovative formats such as nut-butter filled bars, balls, and bites provide consumers with a variety of unique tastes and formulations. This type of innovation allows for consumers to enjoy their energy-boosting treat in many different ways! In addition, CPG snack businesses should experiment with healthier takes on traditional snacks, like toaster pastries, protein cookies, and healthy rice crispy treats. Nowadays, these treats don’t always need to be made with high sugar and unhealthy fats. Using leading-edge processes innovated by food scientists, they can now be formulated in the hottest diet trends, including vegan, paleo, and keto diets!

Key Takeaways

This past year has changed both the landscape for CPG goods and consumer buying decisions. As protein bar entrepreneurs navigate the post-COVID world, it is essential for them to embrace new consumer trends. To stay ahead of the fray, protein bar brands will need to offer their products to the market in an innovative way while following industry trends. Those who are able to provide unique snack experiences will be able to increase consumer engagement, brand awareness, and ultimately, market share.