Protein bars: what do consumers want?

Consumers’ quest for the benefits of a healthy diet has opened the door for health and fitness brands to gain market presence. Sales of take-home snack bars were up 7.1% in 2018 with the volume of bars sold up 3% as cited by the Grocer earlier this year.

Health consciousness has meant more people are buying snacks such as protein bars as a way of eating less sugar and fat but also getting more protein in their diet. Focusing on protein bars, our research aimed to highlight flavour preferences as well as the best on-pack descriptors in terms of positive consumer reaction.

Having a wide variety of flavours on the market to draw inspiration from, we compiled a sixty-strong list in order to test for the favourite. We ran six multi-answer steers, each testing ten flavours, and we ranked the sum in order of popularity. You can find the full list below:

To reliably test the sixty flavours we only targeted those members of our consumer community who had confirmed buying protein-related products to achieve their fitness goals. The top ten flavours were then tested with another multi-answer steer so that we could determine the top five, which we used in a preference steer to isolate an exclusive preference and an overall favourite:

The results from the exclusive preference on the left hand side show that chocolate fudge brownie is a winner by around three percentage points, however, looking at all responses on the right hand side, we noticed that the top three variants have attracted similar number of votes. Rather than a clear-cut winner, we have established three flavours, which test well with consumers.

Not only the top five, but also the whole ranking of 60 flavours revealed a trend for sweet flavours, inspired by popular sweet snacks. Consumers are likely looking for less guilty indulgence, i.e. to substitute familiar desserts with healthier alternatives. Positioned as healthy or functional food, protein bars often feature related claims. We used a single-answer steer to determine what drives purchase decisions most among seven key factors in the segment:

The results show that the top four determinants in consumers’ decision making when purchasing a protein bar are relatively equal in the percentage of responses. Still, we thought ‘Low in sugar’ was worth investigating further. Using a ‘Split by description’ steer, we asked two separate sets of consumers whether they would buy an identical protein bar with a low-sugar related claim, described differently for each of the two panel subsets:

The results show that consumers are relatively insensitive to the claims made about the bar as long as they convey the idea of low sugar. Next, we decided to test multiple claims against a single claim:

Using multiple claims resulted in a lower percentage of people answering positively, possibly due to the additional information diluting the effectiveness of the claims made.

Narrowing down our respondents to frequent gym goers who aim to improve strength and conditioning, we obtained a slightly different result. This subset of consumers would be better targeted by claims of higher protein instead of low in sugar as protein is vital in achieving their goal:

Despite strength building frequent gym goers slightly prioritising higher protein content, the percentages overall are not wildly different. Our findings to a large extent represent the current state of the market for protein bars. A key factor in growth for this market is the expansion beyond fitness into healthy snacking for a wider audience. Still, the ability to verify product concepts and obtain fast results is sought after by brands. Vypr can steer decision making more quickly and efficiently than standard market research.

Vitamin D supplements: future opportunities in retail

Vitamin D is one of the most commonly deficient nutrients, especially in countries that enjoy less sunshine. For this reason, geneticist Steve Jones, one of Britain’s leading scientists, had recently encouraged people to take vitamin D supplements, despite previously having been a supplement sceptic. In a speech at a festival in Wales, Jones highlighted that taking vitamin D could be effective across a range of health areas including immune support, bone health, obesity, mood and blood pressure. He also pointed out that multiple sclerosis was most common in northern Canada and almost unheard of in tropical countries, likely due to insufficient availability of sunshine for vitamin D production.

Vitamin D supplementation was promoted in the UK in 2016, when Public Health England (PHE) issued an advice that adults and children over the age of one should have 10 micrograms of vitamin D daily, meaning that some people had to consider taking a supplement, particularly during autumn and winter. Using a multi-answer steer, we attempted to measure vitamin D’s current use in comparison with other popular supplements, such as multivitamins, fish oil and vitamin C:

With 23% of consumers reporting regularly taking vitamin D, the supplement is second only to multivitamins. Almost a third of consumers regularly take multivitamins, likely for the purpose of filling any nutritional gaps their diet might have. However, despite multivitamins often providing the recommended daily allowances for some nutrients, this is rarely the case when it comes to vitamin D. It is also thought that food alone rarely provides enough of the substance. 

We were interested to obtain additional insights on vitamin D supplement usage patterns. Using a demographic steer, we asked 3742 respondents whether they take the vitamin and how frequently:

The results highlight opportunities for both attracting new consumers and converting occasional users into regular users. Seasonal positioning is not likely to boost sales, despite autumn and winter being highlighted by PHE as the seasons when supplementation is more likely to be required. In terms of gender, slightly more men (25%) than women (22%) are occasional users, however women are the more likely future converts with 29% considering taking it, compared to only 19% of men. 

It was interesting to see what areas of health and wellbeing consumers are willing to improve on by taking supplements in general and whether these areas are related with the suggested benefits from vitamin D supplementation:

Considering the results shown above, vitamin D stands a good chance of attracting a substantial proportion of consumers, interested in benefits related to immune health, body motion and brain/mental health. Using a preference steer, we asked consumers who either use vitamin D now or would consider using it in future, which out of four health benefits they find most important. 515 consumers were shown three options at a time until all combinations had been shown, and the results below show the exclusive preferences made (i.e. where the consumer chose the same option every time it was offered)::

Most vitamin D products on the market currently feature claims related to immune system, bone, and muscle health support. The steer suggests that supporting the immune system is the most important to consumers out of these three. Being a claim based on more recent research, brain health support is not yet commonly used as an on-pack claim. Our results above prove the influence of innovative claims and ingredients that relate to mental wellbeing and brain health. 

Using a ‘split by description’ steer we attempted to establish whether including a claim related to brain health can indeed boost sales. We asked two separate sets of potential and current vitamin D users whether they would buy an identical supplement, shown to each subset with a different description:

The result is in favour of the brain health claim, which attracted almost 5 percentage points more “yes” responses. Most opportunities come from two subgroups: future vitamin D consumers (8 percentages more) and year-round current users (6 percentage points more). The positioning could convince regular users to switch brands and attract new consumers who currently do not take vitamin D.

Vitamin D supplements provide opportunities for growth across a range of aspects. Brain health support is an increasingly sought-after attribute, in need of further scientific research to back up related claims. Positioning and pricing are dependent on the retail format, be it supermarkets, chemists or health stores. Less traditional delivery formats, such as chews and sprays, can help a brand stand out and broaden the market to include children and teenagers.

Analysing the potential for CBD success

Positive feelings towards cannabidiol (CBD) products in the UK are on the rise, as consumers are increasingly looking to obtain mental wellbeing benefits from every day products. Billed as a remedy for pain, anxiety, acne and depression, CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabis byproduct which has already gained traction in the US as a food, drink and cosmetics ingredient.

In order to establish what part of our panel is positive towards CBD we ran a steer, which found out that more than two thirds of consumers say they would buy CBD infused products:

This result is high compared to research done before; for example a survey commissioned by the Grocer has shown that only a third would buy CBD infused products. However, the same survey has highlighted that 42% of consumers were unsure what CBD was, therefore we included a brief explanation in the steer, leading to a more positive result. Confusion might be an obstruction for the success of the ingredient, given that cannabis has negative connotations for many. It is important that manufacturers, brands and retailers are clear on the features and benefits of their products.

Inspired by a selection of five new CBD-infused products published by The Grocer earlier this year, we asked consumers whether they would buy each of these items. Each product comes from a different segment, i.e. alcoholic and soft drinks, medicated confectionery, over-the-counter supplements and cosmetics:

It is obvious that CBD has potential in each of these segments, although there are different implications in the different segments, regarding who to target and how. Overall, men are more attracted CBD infused products than women, with 74.5% compared to 65.9%, but this can vary by product type.

However, product claims and packaging are key regardless of the segment and consumer characteristics. We obtained the best result for the CBD mints, which featured the phrase “to soothe and centre” on the front of the packaging. This claim is a reference to CBD’s purported wellness properties which a number of brands have already utilised in their marketing efforts, especially in the US. In order to establish whether this phrase really makes a difference, we ran a “split by description” test, showing the CBD mints to two sets of respondents, with and without the claim in the description, respectively:

The difference is 5.55% in favour of the product along with the wellness claim, which, although not ground-breaking, makes a strong case for the importance of getting the claim right.

CBD could potentially breathe new life into certain consumer goods segments thanks to the opportunity for brands to make an innovative functional claim for relieving stress and promoting a feeling of wellness. According to an article from The Independent, published earlier this month, sales of products containing CBD have increased by an impressive 99% in the UK since the beginning of 2019. In order to make the most of this market opportunity, brands should consider using informative packaging designs, reflecting the increased interest towards wellbeing benefits.