Energy Bars, Health Bars, Nutrition Bars, Gym Bars—- Mommy Bars, Kid Bars and More! The bar industry is exploding and it seems like anyone who is on the go, wants a bar that fits their specific nutritional needs- and anyone with specific nutritional needs has a bar that they have created and want to bring to market.

Carbs Were Still Ok: Years ago there used to be granola bars—lots of oats, sugar, grains and fruit. They tasted pretty good and it was essentially granola cereal all baked together with sugar. A bar that emerged from the granola era—An era where we used to eat carbohydrates without guilt. Fat was the enemy and granola bars were fat free! Nature Valley comes to mind.


Protein: Then the athletics came in- and they wanted a bar that would fit their workout needs. Thus was born the high protein “Power Bars” with lots of whey protein in there. But we were still anti fat and ok with sugar so the power bars were high in sugar. These no-bake bars were held together by their sugar-glue and were very hard and chewy. Lots of soy and whey pushed into a very small concentrated place. These bars didn’t need to be baked, with all that sugar the low water activity held them all together.


Source: Getty Images








Sugar Alcohol: It then became unpopular to consume carbohydrates and the bar landscape changed. Companies like Quest emerged and replaced the sugar syrups with sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols used to be something that was consumed in small quantities by diabetics- so they could enjoy a small piece of chocolate but now sugar alcohols were being consumed in larger amounts and used to replace most or all of the sugar syrups found in bars.







Soluble Fibers: Sugar alcohols started getting a bad rep because of the gastro-distress they caused. Bar companies turned to soluble fibers like chicory root, inulin, 0ligiosaccharides, prebiotic fiber, soluble corn fiber. There were lots of names and varieties but ultimately it translated to carbs that are not digested.

Fat is Ok: Guess what, we get to eat fats again- and not just olive oil but the stuff that used to be bad for us like saturated fats from coconut oil and palm oil. Remember when the CSPI said coconut oil and saturated fats were bad—well, now we are told its good! The bar market continued to emerge with bars very high in fat like coconut oil, palm oil and MCT (medium chain triglycerides). This was all propelled forward by Dave Asprey and his  Bullet Proof Coffee. Now we see bars emerging that are just dripping with oil and fat. This is ok—this is acceptable because there are no carbs, there are healthy fats and all the protein comes from nuts. Of course a bit of sugar is needed to keep it from getting moldy so the soluble fibers and sugar alcohols are used for water activity control.










Soluble Fiber Rules Change: In 2016 the FDA put out their updates including noting that not all soluble fibers would count as dietary fiber on the label. Fibers that count include natural fibers from fruits and vegetables but processed inulin fiber may not count. The FDA says, and I quote:

“The F.D.A. plans to publish a separate notice that will seek comment on the available scientific data on non-digestible carbohydrates. Publicly available clinical trial data will be identified and summarized for non-digestible carbohydrates, including inulin, bamboo fiber, soy fiber, pea fiber, wheat fiber, cotton seed fiber, sugar cane fiber, sugar beet fiber and oat fiber”

Glycemic Index: But what about glycemic index?! That’s the new buzz word in the health bar space. Glycemic index and blood sugar are important and the emerging thought now is, its ok if the carbs are actually GASP* digested- but wouldn’t it be nice if it didn’t’ affect our blood sugar levels! The bars are now high in fat (from nuts and coconut- it’s so great not to have to worry about saturated fat anymore!)

Sugar Is Back– FODMAP friendly bars: We have come full circle with a new bar trend- the latest bar trend uses actual glucose syrup (and in the spirit of keeping it real—let’s all agree that corn syrup, tapioca syrup, brown rice syrup and glucose syrup are all the same thing-just because its not high fructose corn syrup doesn’t mean its healthier) The goal of these bars is to get the FODMAPs, an acronym for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, AKA poorly absorbed carbohydrates- that cause severe abdominal pain, bloating, gas and constipation. I shake my head and wonder—how is this different from the very same high protein low fiber, high sugar Powerbars we used to eat so long ago. Its not– its the same concept, with a brand new marketing twist! Powerbar should have marketed their 90’s bar to the FODMAP sensitive people!










Allulose Bars: A new emerging trend on the horizon. Allulose is a natural rare sugar that is created in bulk by enzymatically extracting it from Non-GMO corn. Allulose is not a sugar alcohol and it is not a soluble fiber. It is actually a sugar, you just pee it out. It tastes great, it lowers water activity, it doesn’t cause FODMAP issues. Could allulose be the answer to our prayers? It probably will once consumers can be educated to understand that the sugar from allulose listed on a label doesn’t count – not much anyway. It’s about 0.29 calories per gram. The FDA has some recommended levels on it that may or may not be followed- we don’t really know yet because no one has actually put out any products with allulose—YET! That will change in 2017!


Refrigerated Bars
It started with Core Foods (they were doing it back in 2009!) and now we have Perfect Bar– both bars don’t rely on high sugar (or sugar alcohols or soluble fibers) to lower water activity to inhibit mold—because they have the cold refrigerated air to keep the bacteria at bay. What a novel, new and exciting idea—refrigeration! Fresh Food! This emerging bar category is one to keep an eye on! A move away from bars that need some form of sugar (digestible or not) to keep it safe won’t be necessary if we keep it cold. A short shelf life will be involved though!



Source: A Dancer In the Kitchen Blogspot








The energy bar world has evolved and changed over the past 10 years and we are now at a point where the trend is basically to eat and excrete. The less food from that bar that you eat and the more you push out of your body—the more popular the bar becomes. Bar entrepreneurs consider anything that is a fiber or sugar alcohol as not counting towards the net carbs- or they think it’s not going to be digested. (this is not totally true as parts of some fibers are digested –as the FDA is beginning to regulate-but no one really talks about that!)

2017 and Beyond

What’s Next

What kind of bar will be next—I have an idea! How about a RETORT bar— yes, this would be a bar that would be pushed into flexible pouch packaging, heated to 250’F to ensure no botulism and to make the product completely sterile. Water activity won’t be a concern, it won’t need refrigeration and pH won’t matter. It will be like the cans of tuna fish that are now in a pouch- on the shelf. Shelf stable retorted energy bars- you heard it from me first!

The Fancy Food Show was in town this week! I love wandering around the show, checking out the trends and secretly searching for false claims, labeling violations or stuff that is just misleading! That’s what food scientists do, and then we pick up the phone, call the FDA and make sure violating entrepreneurs are BUSTED!!

But the reality is, there are just way to many products out there for the FDA to inspect for compliance and unless your product is under USDA jurisdiction, you don’t even have to have it inspected or approved before putting it on the shelf. This is all the more reason to do your diligence and make sure you don’t accidentally lie, mislead or omit any important information.

Here are a few common mistakes that start up food entrepreneurs make that could result in a product recall or even worse—causing someone to get sick or die!

Allergen Labeling– It is very important that you clearly state any of the 8 major allergens that are in your product. They include Milk, Eggs, Fish, Shellfish, Tree-nuts, Peanuts, Wheat and Soy.   Double check every ingredient that goes into your product to make sure they don’t have hidden allergens (like dry seasoning blends that may have soy or nut powders in them). Just check out the FDA recalls and you will see how many products are recalled almost every day for accidently not listing an allergen.   By the way—coconut is considered an allergen in the U.S.A., and Canadian allergens include sesame seeds and mustard.

Serving Size– Unfortunately, your 1-lb muffin that delivers 9 grams of protein is not an honest serving size! The FDA has what is called RACC (Referenced Amounts Customarily Consumed) and they say a normal muffin size is 55 grams (that’s about 2-oz). You may not consider this a portion, but the FDA does. Watch your sizes and base your nutritional information on what is the reference. Its all right here in Title 21 of the CFR part 101.12

All Natural? The FDA does not have an actual definition of “all-natural” and there have been plenty of class action lawsuits. The rules are vague and there are lots of ingredients that may seem natural- like modified food starch and alkali processed cocoa- that are not. You have to figure that if big companies like Trader Joe’s and Ben and Jerry’s are getting sued then you can get in trouble too. Your best bet is to just stay away from the “All Natural” term. The All Natural terminology is just so 10 years ago anyway- try to focus on other ways to market your product in a more measurable and certifiable way (Gluten Free, Kosher, Organic—etc)

Net Carbs– This is a made up word used to indicate the total number of carbohydrates minus soluble fiber and sugar alcohols. The term is not based on sound science and can give consumers the false impression that they do not contribute any calories or raise blood sugar levels. The FDA has not has not yet taken a position on words like “net carbs” on your food package- however they will evaluate labels on a case by case basis to ensure that the brand owner is not “characterizing” the amount of carbohydrates in a product. For example saying your product “ONLY” has 5 carbs per serving is characterizing it—you are doing more than just stating the facts. If you do want to market your product as having a lower carbohydrate level and imply that it will help with weight loss, be very careful of your wording and run your final statements by a regulatory lawyer expert!

Keep it real- I know that all food entrepreneurs have the best of intentions and want to make sure that their creations are healthy and clean. However, there are many tempting and alluring food science shortcuts that will make your product taste great or last longer on the shelf… but can all of a sudden make your product not as “real” or as “clean” as you want it to be. Don’t try to hide what you are doing! If you are going to jack up your fiber levels with soluble corn fiber then just put it on the label and fess up! Calling your natural flavors as “extracts” is not fooling anyone (ok maybe it is, but you know deep down that you are misleading!) -Don’t try to downplay your protein sources or bacteria inhibiting preservative levels.

Before you put your product on the market have the entire package reviewed by a regulatory lawyer or food scientist. Hidden mistakes can result in millions of dollars lost as well as your brand name reputation.