Columns

Package as product definer

February 9, 2006
/ Print / Reprints /
ShareMore
/ Text Size+
As energy gels expand beyond endurance athletes, changes are occurring in their packaging-but don't expect any radical departures.

Bike shops and runners' stores are outside typical food distribution networks, but energy drinks, nutrition bars and other diet supplements are a growing presence at those retailers' checkout counters. Red Bull and Balance Bar are examples that have made the transition to mainstream distribution, and the next product type to bridge the gap may be energy gel.

Generically referred to as "goo," energy gels surfaced in the early 1990s in Berkeley, CA, still home to the three largest manufacturers: Clif Bar Inc., PowerBar and Sports Street Marketing, maker of GU energy gel. Not only did it lend its name, Sports Street created the bottle-shaped polyfoil package that defines the category. The shape suggests a water bottle, a nod to the electrolytes and simple sugars in the gels. The gel is mostly complex carbohydrates that don't require much digestion before delivering energy to on-the-go athletes.

So pervasive is the bottle shape that gel makers who have tried different packaging quickly retreated to the familiar look. "We were in an applesauce cup when we came out with Carb-BOOM," recalls John M. Cooney, CEO and co-founder of Tucson, AZ-based Sunburst Nutrition Inc. "Polyfoil pouches with a tapered opening to pour the gel right into your mouth was a much more sophisticated package." Sustainability is a rallying cry for many gel makers, and some offer anti-litter solutions. Clif Bar introduced the "litter leash" a few years ago to keep the easy-tear opening together with the pouch. "You see a lot of litter after a large triathlon, and the litter leash was an improvement made to address litter concerns," says Clif Bar Spokesman Peter Berridge. Carb-BOOM switched to a pouch two years after launch. More recently, the firm installed a form/fill/seal machine in a 10,000-sq.-ft. facility and began production. "To get into manufacturing, you have to be gluttons for pain," Cooney jokes. "It's been a tough learning curve, but we did it out of necessity to compete with the leaders in a growing market."



Caffeinated gels and added electrolytes to replace salt tablets are among the refinements from PowerBar Gels, along with pouches with a wider neck and rounded edges. Source: PowerBar.

PowerBar's Michelle Arnau pegs that growth at 20 percent a year. "Gels have been popular for years with hard-core runners and cyclists, but we've seen sales expand beyond elite athletes to more casual athletes," reports Arnau, brand manager of PowerBar Gel. She is spearheading a product overhaul that includes new flavors, enhanced formulation and a more curved pouch design. Sharp edges were eliminated because distance runners, who often carry the packets in their shorts or sports bra, were suffering scratches and abrasions.

A division of Nestle SA, PowerBar benefits from its parents deep promotional pockets. "We sponsor 5,000 athletes in events like the New York City Marathon," says Arnau. Lance Armstrong squeezed a dozen packets of caffeinated PowerBar Gel down his gullet in one stage of last year's Tour de France. But Kraft Foods' Balance Bar subsidiary is a nonstarter in the gel segment, and PepsiCo's ReLoad gel from Gatorade was withdrawn a few years ago. "They sell product by the pallet; they weren't used to selling by the case," says Cooney.

Small is beautiful from an entrepreneur's perspective, and energy gels are still a small segment dominated by entrepreneurial companies. As it comes into its own, look for more product and package refinements of the kind Nestle is introducing.

Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to Food Engineering Magazine.

Recent Articles by Kevin Higgins, Senior Editor

You must login or register in order to post a comment.

Multimedia

Videos

Image Galleries

Plant of the Year 2014

Blue Diamond Growers was chosen as Food Engineering's 2014 Plant of the Year. The Sacramento-based company is the world’s largest producer of almonds and almond ingredients.

Podcasts

Burns & McDonnell project manager RJ Hope and senior project engineer Justin Hamilton discuss the distinctions between Food Safety and Food Defense as well as the implications for food manufacturers of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
More Podcasts

Food Engineering

FE October 2014 Cover

2014 October

The October 2014 issue of Food Engineering explores companies that have successfully grappled with "the new business reality" and are coming to terms with it being here to stay. Also, read about the work going on behind the scenes to keep FSMA on track.

Table Of Contents Subscribe

FSMA Audit

What is the is most important step you have taken to become ready for a FSMA audit?
View Results Poll Archive

THE FOOD ENGINEERING STORE

Food-Authentication-Flyer-(.gif
Food Authentication Using Bioorganic Molecules

This text provides critical tools and data needed to augment routine food analysis and enhance food safety by aiding in the detection of counterfeit, and potentially deleterious, foods.

More Products

Clear Seas Research

Clear Seas ResearchWith access to over one million professionals and more than 60 industry-specific publications,Clear Seas Research offers relevant insights from those who know your industry best. Let us customize a market research solution that exceeds your marketing goals.

STAY CONNECTED

FE recent tweets

facebook_40.pngtwitter_40px.pngyoutube_40px.png linkedin_40px.pngGoogle +

Food Master

Food Master Cover 2014Food Master 2014 is now available!

Where the buying process begins in the food and beverage manufacturing market. 

Visit www.foodmaster.com to learn more.