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Snack Bars Continue Their Assault on Breakfast Cereal

Kellog's strawberry Nutri-Grain barsCourtesy Kellogs'sKellog's strawberry Nutri-Grain barsThe old-fashioned bowl of cereal may be losing favor with on-the-go Americans, but put almost the same stuff in a bar, and suddenly consumers are interested again. Unit shipments of snack bars made from cereal, granola, and other ingredients increased 13 percent in the 12-month period ended last November, according to new data from research firm NPD, as well as double-digit growth in dollar sales.

Packaged, grab-and-go options for breakfast have been on the rise for a while, and NPD data helpfully track the mobile nature of the trend. Sales of snack bars at hotels and motels increased 28 percent over the previous 12-month period, while sales to cafés, food-service outlets, cafeterias, grocers, and convenience stores posted double-digit gains. NPD expects the trend to continue in 2014 as long as the improving job market prompts more people to eat breakfast on their way to work.

Over the next five years, meanwhile, researcher Euromonitor International expects snack bar sales to continue their current rise. And the bars aren’t just for breakfast: “The growth will largely stem from the growing trend of consumers choosing to eat between meals or to eat a number of small meals a day,” EI says.

What consumers gain in convenience, they sometimes lose in nutrition. A Special K red berries bar, for instance, contains no vitamin A, C, or iron. A serving of the Special K red berries cereal, on the other hand, offers 15 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin A, 35 percent of vitamin C, and 45 percent of iron.

Not all brands have benefited from the trend. Special K and FiberPlus sales have been weak, Kellogg (K) Chief Executive John Bryant said during a recent earnings call, while “Nutri-Grain and Rice Krispies Treats are actually still doing reasonably well.”

Wong is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek. Follow her on Twitter @venessawwong.

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