Mars Tries To Be More Kind

Last week, candy maker Mars agreed to fully acquire Kind Bars, valuing the company at US$5 billion, as outlined in the below Forbes article. Like many other CPG giants, Mars is looking to capitalize on the growth of healthy snacking.

Global Snack Bar Market

Snack bars, which include cereal bars, energy bars and other snack bars, are an enormous and growing super category. Global sales were approximately US$21 Billion in 2018, and are expected to grow at 6%+ through 2025. In the U.S. alone, snack bars generate over US$7 billion in sales and are expected to grow to US$9 billion by 2023. Kellogg’s and General Mills are leaders in the cereal bar arena, but more and more “healthy” snack bars have been acquired by large CPG food companies. Here are just a few examples:

  • General Mills acquired Larabar in 2008
  • Kellogg’s bought the makers of RX bar in 2017
  • Hershey bought Amplify Snack Brands (makers of Oatmega) in 2017
  • Hershey bought One Brands in 2019
  • Simple Good Foods (Atkins) bought Quest in 2019

Changing Consumer Behaviors

Including the latest acquisition by Mars, the above six examples are proof that large CPG food companies see the changing consumer landscape. Consumers are looking for better ingredients, less processing, more organic, lower sugar and alternative ingredients to help with allergies. There is also heightened emphasis on transparency in the ingredients, something RX Bar capitalized on with their overtly simple packaging that showed their limited ingredients on the front panel. Combine this changing dynamic with an increase in consumption frequency (something we are seeing in beverages as well), and it’s obvious why these acquisitions make strategic sense.

One of the main reasons Mars made the complete acquisition of Kind is the perception that Kind Bars are healthier.

Mars is known for producing prominent candy brands including Snickers, M&Ms, Twix, and others. Kind sells healthier snacks, like granola bars and fruit bars, and claims to avoid artificial flavors, added sugar, and preservatives. It says it uses “nutritious food as the first and predominant ingredient in every food product,” Business Insider reported earlier this year.

Business Insider

Kind…But Healthy?

Kind Bars are marketed as healthy snacks. Here’s an example of their nutritional profile:

Kind Almond & Coconut Bar Nutrition Label

A few notable elements:

  1. At 180 calories for a 40 gram bar, this is a calorically dense product. 2/3 of the carbohydrates are from sugar!
  2. This bar is loaded with sugar. Honey, glucose syrup & sugar are all key ingredients and very poor nutritionally.
  3. Soy lecithin, used as an emulsifier (helping ingredients mix), is a poor choice vs. sunflower lecithin. Soy is a GMO product, which runs the risk of cancer-causing chemicals. It is also a phytoestrogen, linked to increased risk of cancer.
  4. Chicory root fiber has become a popular, cheap way to provide fiber. It also causes significant gastrointestinal distress, as it is broken down quickly. I have personally tried a few products with chicory root fiber and found them to be completely intolerable, actually throwing away the products because of the severity of GI distress.

In 2019, several nutritionists, including Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinology professor at the University of California, San Francisco, told Forbes that Kind’s products were not particularly healthy. “On a scale of one to ten, one being Coca-Cola and ten being whole foods, Kind bars are likely a four,” said Dr. Lustig. “It’s less unhealthy than others. That doesn’t necessarily make something healthy.”

So, for a snack bar that claims to be “healthy”, it hardly fits the bill. But Kind is not alone in talking a health & wellness game, but not backing it up with sound ingredients and nutrients.

One Bar…Multiple Ingredients

Hershey purchased the One bar line, which is focused on offering high protein in a snack bar while providing very low amounts of sugar. However, a look at the ingredient panel demonstrates anything but a health & wellness commitment:

A few notable elements:

  1. 220 calories from a small bar, with 24 grams of carbohydrates. Of these carbs, 21 are from dietary fiber and sugar alcohols, which can put a heavy strain on the GI system.
  2. Isomalto-oligosaccharides are used as a pre-biotic, with glucose and/or corn starch being hydrolyzed. They tend to not be fully digestible by the human GI system, and while they can offer some probiotic benefits they can also cause GI distress such as nausea, bloating and gas.
  3. Of all the sugar alcohols to use, maltitol is one of, if not THE, worst. Maltitol scores 52 on the glycemic index, just south of table sugar at 60. So, if you’re trying to follow a low-carb diet, eating this bar with maltitol as one of the first ingredients will assuredly cause you an insulin response, which shuts down fat metabolism and can aid in creating insulin resistance.
  4. Soy lecithin, as covered above, is a poor choice of an ingredient due to GMO and phytoestrogen issues.
  5. Tapioca starch, made from the cassava root, is used as a thickener, and may not be completely absorbed, so will act as a bulking agent through the GI system. It offers very little in the way of nutritional value and what does stay in the system gets converted to glucose quickly. So, those on a low carb or keto diet should stay away.
  6. Sucralose. As an artificial sweetener, there are much better options. Stevia Leaf Extract, Erythritol, Monk Fruit and Allulose are all preferred.

Ingredients Matter

While companies market themselves as healthy or healthier alternatives, consider their competitive set. Is a Kind bar more healthy than a Mars bar? Probably. But is it a healthy food that provides solid nutrition for someone seeking a wellness lifestyle? There are better options, so read the ingredient label and follow these three rules:

  1. Real foods first. Instead of reaching for a bar loaded with empty calories, fillers, sugars, soy and other processed ingredients, seek natural and truly healthy foods. If you want snackable protein, try hard boiled eggs, organic cheese (if you can tolerate lactose), organic peanut butter (peanuts & sea salt) if you are not allergic, or make your own protein shake with a clean protein powder and almond milk. If you want protein and good fats, try pecans, macadamia nuts and walnuts, all high in healthy omega 3 fatty acids.
  2. Understand the double speak. Manufacturers are using an absurd number of words to substitute for sugar. Just because something says “healthy” does not mean it is, so reading and understanding the ingredient panel is critical. Words like dextrose, maltodextrin, turbinado sugar, honey, fructose, maltose, sucrose and a host of others are all used in processing to add unnecessary calories and stimulate insulin…which keeps your appetite high and continually seeking more food.
  3. Reduce sugar & carbs; reduce the snacking frequency. We’ve talked on this blog at length about how insulin resistance is developed, and snacking, or frequency of eating, is a major contributor. Reducing the frequency of feedings and focusing on better, whole food ingredients when you eat means less empty calories, a much better path to wellness, and much “kinder” treatment of your mind & body.

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