Packaging Round Table: Snack Bars

The GYK Antler Packaging Round Table is a monthly gathering where different GYK Antler team members discuss what’s standing out on store shelves. For each session, a product category is selected, and attendees bring their favorite product within that category based solely on the branding and packaging. This month, we focused on snack bars.
 
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As snacking has become a regular practice in our society, the range of snack options available continues expanding at an incredible clip. Think back to when you were a kid. If you’re like me, you probably don’t remember packaged snack products like coconut chips, kale chips, and quinoa puffs being available on store shelves. Now, these types of products have become commonplace, and the categories continue to expand (CC: JicaChips). Add in the abundance of other products claiming functional benefits (chia seed beverages, smoothies, pressed juices, shakes), and it’s plain to see that the snack space is competitive and crowded.
 
Development in these emerging snacking segments has likely played a role in slowing the growth for snack bars. Sure, snack bar sales are still increasing, but only at a modest rate—4% in 2015. This growth is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. And, even with that modest growth, total sales in the US for snack, nutrition and protein bars in 2015 was estimated to be a sizable $6.4 billion.*
 
As such, it will be interesting to track the evolution of the snack bar to see what brands start doing to avoid taking a backseat to other convenient nutritional options.
 
Going into this packaging roundtable, we intentionally left the definition of a snack bar vague. To some, the concept of a snack bar feels more like an indulgence, but most were inclined to look for something functional.
 
Below are six observations from this exercise.
 
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1. Transparency

 
Transparency was a major theme for the selected bars. In general, everyone seemed to favor either packaging that listed the ingredients front and center, or possessed a transparent wrapper so they could see the actual product. In fact, multiple participants brought in RXBAR, favoring the color palette and the clean emphasis on ingredients. Wisely, RXBAR’s branding also complements CrossFit‘s work out of the day. To “RX the WOD” is to complete the CrossFit daily workout as prescribed, as opposed to “DC” or “damn close.”
 
Take Away: Consumers want to know what they’re putting in their body, so let them know that you have nothing to hide.
 

2. Storytelling

 
Of the eleven items that were brought in, seven of them told some sort of story on their packaging. From a narrative about the negative ecological impact of ferrel swine to a woman’s quest to create a healthy snack option for an allergy ridden husband, packaging provides an opportunity for brands to concisely tell their story to a potential customer.
 
Take Away: A well crafted story can provide the inspiration we might need to go through with a purchase.
 

3. Minimalist, Clean Design

 
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In general, these snack bars are touted as healthy options. They’re supposed to be simple and made of real ingredients. Therefore the packaging should reflect that clean, minimalist lifestyle.
 
Take Away: Simple packaging can help establish authenticity.
 

4. Design Needs to Reinforce Price Point

 
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Some of these bars have relatively high price points. If a brand is going to expect a consumer to purchase a snack bar for $4+, the packaging plays a major role in influencing the perceived value. This is a big reason that Mast Brothers has been able to get away with charging $10 for their chocolate bars. As a matter of comparison, the participant who brought in the Mast Brothers chocolate bars also brought in a couple packs of classic gum–Chiclets and Fruit Stripe. The difference is remarkable. Mast Brothers bars look fancy and expensive, and people will purchase them because of that—despite the fact that some chocolate experts have doubts about Mast Brothers’ quality.
 
Take Away: The quality of your packaging should meet or exceed the quality of your product.
 

5. Prioritize Branding

 
For some products, their greatest appeal is the fact that they are homemade or homegrown. As such, many of these brands’ packaging can come across a bit more DIY looking. Sometimes this is intentional, other times it is not. Ultimately, even if you want to maintain that homemade appeal, you can do so without being poorly designed.
 
Take Away: Even if your resources are limited, your positioning, story and literal design should be a top priority.
 

6. Stand Out

 
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Multiple participants selected Epic Bars. They all noted how the Epic bars really stood out on the store shelf. Epic Bar managed to come up with a stylized approach without being overwhelming. With their realistic Audobon-esque illustration, Epic has successfully created beautiful, distinct packaging.
 
Take Away: Don’t just conform to what everyone else is doing in your category, find your own identity and own it.
 

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What’s your go-to snack? What made it stand out?

 
 
Luke Bonner is a recovering basketball player turned marketer. Follow @LukeyBonner from a safe distance.
 
 
*Source: Based on Information Resources Inc., InfoScan Reviews; CSPnet “Category Management Handbook”; US Census Bureau, Economic Census/Mintel
 
 
 

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