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Cereal Bars: A Perceptual, Chemical And Sensory Analysis

Article  in  British Food Journal · December 1990

DOI: 10.1108/00070709010003652


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Vincent-Wayne Mitchell
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British Food Journal
Cereal Bars: A Perceptual, Chemical and Sensory Analysis
Pari Boustani Vincent-Wayne Mitchell
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To cite this document:
Pari Boustani Vincent-Wayne Mitchell, (1990),"Cereal Bars: A Perceptual, Chemical and Sensory Analysis", British Food
Journal, Vol. 92 Iss 5 pp. 17 - 22
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ereal bars are increasingly becoming a Table I. Size of the UK Cereal Bar Market, 1981-1987
popular snack amongst the younger age
groups. How healthy are they?
Value Percentage
Year (£ million) Change

1981 0.5 n/a

1982 4.0 +700
1983 7.0 + 75

Cereal Bars: 1984

+ 43
+ 50
+ 67

A Perceptual, 1987 45.0

Source: MSI and trade estimates, 1988
+ 80
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Chemical (4) Increases in the disposable incomes of certain

sections of the population have improved the chance

and Sensory of people experimenting with new products.

The chewy cereal bar represents the strongest growth
sector and in 1987 represented 67 per cent of the market

Analysis while crunchy bars represented only 33 per cent.

Marketing Strategies for Industries (MSI) (1988) believe
that much of the immediate growth will come from the
chewy bar sector as there are still a number of leading
manufacturers which are present in the sector but whose
Pari Boustani and Vincent-Wayne Mitchell brands are not yet fully established; such a manufacturer
would be Jordans, which only entered the chewy sector
in September 1987.
Market share figures tend to be disputed within the
market, in part due to the introduction of new brands.
In 1987 Harvest Crunch and Chewy had 33 per cent,
Introduction Tracker 19 per cent, Jordans 13 per cent, Solar 12 per
Since the introduction of crunchy cereal bars into the UK cent, Cluster 7 per cent, Jump 5 per cent, Natural Crunch
in 1981, the market has grown substantially and in 1987 4 per cent and others 7 per cent of the UK cereal bar
was estimated to be worth £45 million. Table I shows the market by volume (MSI and trade estimates, 1988). Own
growth in value and percentage change over a seven-year labels fall within this 7 per cent and have become relatively
period. Their introduction filled a gap in the market; well-established with the support of grocery multiples such
biscuits were traditionally sold in large packets and as Waitrose, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Asda and the chemist
chain, Boots. Their presence in the market should
confectionery was seen as an unhealthy form of snack. increase over the next five years (MSI, 1988). Originally
Trade sources suggest that the market value will rise to concentrating on specialist health food shops the focus
over £70m through grocery outlets alone by 1990. Several for distribution has moved to grocery retailers which
well-documented trends in the food sector have benefited accounted for 75 per cent of volume sales in 1987 (MSI,
the cereal bar market. These trends include: 1988). Once cereal bars are established in such mass
(1) The decline of the traditional family meal has helped distribution channels the market should grow extensively.
to create a "snacking" market. Trade sources suggest that the higher the social class the
greater the propensity to consume, and that there is a
(2) An increase in health consciousness which has large geographical difference in UK sales with London
resulted in an increased demand for foods which taking 29.5 per cent while the North East takes only 3.7
are perceived to be healthy. A Euromonitor survey per cent {Cereal Snacks, A Market Report, 1987).
(1986) showed that the trend towards healthy, high-
fibre, low-fat products is indisputable. There is evidence of brands adopting niching strategies.
(3) An increase in leisure time and time spent in the Jordans concentrate on health aspects, standing on a
home has increased demand for snack items. "natural, non-preservatives" platform and in September

1987 launched Jordan's chewy cereal bar which was H1 = Younger, female, and consumers of a higher
claimed to be the healthiest bar on the market. The bar social class will purchase significantly more
contains no added sugar and uses honey to sweeten the cereal bars.
product. Others in the market have concentrated on
developing a snack product which benefits from being H2 = Younger, female, and consumers of a higher
perceived as healthy. The brand leader is believed to be social class will be significantly more health
Tracker which is produced by Mars. Tracker is sold conscious.
predominantly beside confectionery products as compared (3) determine whether consumer perceptions of cereal
with the majority of cereal bars which are sold alongside bar as a healthy snack alternative were borne out
biscuits. Jump, launched in 1985 as a "natural, healthy by the nutritional content of these bars.
snack that is tasty as well as fun", is believed to be the
most popular cereal bar among children. It seems clear The NACNE (1983) report had provided guidelines as to
that these cereal bars are being positioned in the minds what might be viewed as healthy. As a point of comparison
of the consumer as the "healthy snack alternative". In the favourite less-healthy alternatives for cereal bars would
1983 an influential report published nutritional guidelines also be examined.
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for health education in Britain (NACNE, 1983). Four (4) examine consumer taste preferences for bars which
recommendations of that report are particularly important have been analysed under objective 3. Ideally H3
in relation to cereal bars, these are that consumers should would be accepted.
be encouraged to eat foods which have a:
H3 = Cereal bars with the healthiest nutritional
• low sugar content content will be significantly preferred by
• low fat content consumers.
• low salt content To achieve the stated objectives a three-stage methodology
• high fibre content. was employed. It consisted of a questionnaire survey
(n=200), a chemical analysis of seven cereal bars and
This pilot study set out to investigate some of the sensory tests on a pilot group of consumers.
marketing issues involved in the cereal bar market. More
specifically we wished to:
(1) examine the motives for cereal bar purchase and Stage 1: The Survey
see to what extent cereal bars were bought for A questionnaire was elaborated which contained three
health reasons. Do consumers associate cereal bars sections. Section one included questions on cereal bar
with health food? Do consumers purchase cereal purchase — when, where, which, etc. The answers to
bars as a slimming aid? Are purchasers more health this section enabled the survey results to be compared
conscious than non-purchasers? What would most with existing market intelligence. Section two concentrated
consumers eat if cereal bars were not available? on the perceptions of cereal bars, purchase motives, health
consciousness and which alternative snack would be
These are some of the questions we wished to chosen, i.e. data which were not available from secondary
answer. sources. Section three contained demographic type
(2) determine the effect of age, sex and social class questions which were used in the analysis of sections one
on purchasing patterns, reasons for purchase and and two and in gaining the quota sample. The instrument
health awareness. was piloted on a convenience sample of pedestrians in the
Eldon Square Shopping Centre, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Younger respondents, who have been exposed to The North East was chosen as it represented the area
more health education, should be generally more with the lowest sale of cereal bars in the UK. It was
health conscious than older respondents. Females believed that in an area of the lowest sales health
are usually more conscious about their food intake consciousness would be lower. If this awareness was lower
than males. One might also expect that the higher there would be less difference between perceived
the social class of the respondent the greater will healthiness of cereal bars and actual healthiness. If a
be their propensity to purchase and read nutritional difference in perception was found in the North East this
information. This may be a function of education, would surely be replicated in areas where sales were
i.e. that nutritional information has more meaning greater and health consciousness more apparent.
to them or that their education has taught them
nutritional values which they perceive cereal bars Although the majority of the questionnaire was highly
to have. It may also be a result of their increased structured several open-ended questions were included
willingness to try new products and/or increased which were aimed at testing the mental associations of
ability to pay for those trials. These ideas may be the words cereal bar, e.g. "What comes to mind when
combined to form two hypotheses: I mention the words 'cereal bar'?" Several questions were

rephrased and repeated throughout the questionnaire in 1.59, respectively). Thus H1 can only be partially
order to test the consistency of the respondent's accepted, in that younger people are significantly more
answers. The final questionnaire was administered to a likely to consume cereal bars, therefore there is an age
quota sample of 200 pedestrians in the Eldon Square difference, but sex and social class make no difference
shopping centre. The age, sex and socioeconomic profile to the propensity to consume.
of the sample reflected that of the census profile of the
surrounding area. Every fifth person who passed two When analysing the effects of age, sex and social class on
identified points was approached and interview schedules whether consumers associate cereal bars with health food,
were spread across times of day and day of week to some chi-squared analyses could not be undertaken because
minimise these biases. The results obtained on section expected cell frequencies were lessthanfive. This was the
one of the question suggested that the repondents gave case for age and social class. In the case of age the data
answers which were similar to those given by suggest that younger consumers do have a stronger
respondents to market intelligence survey data available association between health and cereal bars while for social
from secondary sources. This gives additional confidence class no relationship was discernible. Table V presents the
when interpreting the results of section two. contingency table for the effect of sex on the association.
The result was significant and indicates that females exhibit
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this association more strongly than males.

Survey Results
Of the 200 people, 104 (52 per cent) of respondents ate No significant relationships exist between age and social
cereal bars, 48 per cent did not. Of those who did not class and whether the ingredients label is read, but females
eat cereal bars, 34 per cent said that they never tried do read labels significantly more than men (x2 = 6.58).
them and 28 per cent did not like the taste. The major Fifty-five per cent of respondents said that the nutritional
reason given for preferring one bar over another was taste information on the packet influences their choice(n= 53).
and 54 per cent of subjects said that this was the main The majority of these respondents considered total
reason for purchase (see Table II).

Health was stated by 32 per cent of the respondents as

being part of their reason for purchase. The words Table III. Words Associated with Cereal Bars
associated with cereal bars are given in Table III. A third
of respondents when asked which words they associated Number of Number of
with cereal bars said "healthy". When asked directly Subjects Subjects (%)
whether they associated cereal bars with health food 88
per cent said yes while 12 per cent said no (« = 104). It Healthy 34 33
would appear that consumer perceptions of cereal bars Nuts, oats, 31 30
are associated with health. muesli, corn
Crunchy/chewy 11 10
Table IV shows that age has a significant effect on Lovely snack 9 9
consumption and, as hypothesis one suggested, younger Tracker, Jordans,
people have a significantly higher chance of being Harvest Crunch,
consumers than older people (p> 1 per cent). Cluster 12 11
Breakfast 4 4
Chi-squared analysis to decide whether the respondent's Expensive 1 1
sex or their social class has any bearing on their Calories 1 1
consumption proved not to be significant (x2 = 1.41 and
Convenient 1 1

Table II. Reasons Why Cereal Bars Are Bought Table IV. A Comparison of Age against Whether or
Not Cereal Bars Are Eaten
Number of Number of
Responses Subjects Subjects (%) Response >15 15-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65+ Total

Taste 56 54 Yes 10 50 10 14 7 7 6 104

Healthy 33 32 No 3 30 11 10 13 12 17 96
Filling 11 10 Total 13 80 21 24 20 19 23 200
Convenient 4 4 2
Chi-square (x ) = 17.591
Total 104 100 Degrees of freedom = 6

Table V. A Comparison of Sex against Whether or Not by the questionnaire. Although the contents of many of
Cereal Bars Are Associated with Health Food the cereal bars are given on the packet, tests for the above
substances were still carried out because not all packages
were able to provide the necessary information and there
Response Male Female Total was a desire to cross-check manufacturers' claims. Tests
were also conducted on the two most popular alternatives
Yes 30 61 91
to cereal bars which the survey determined to be Mars
No 8 5 13 bars and chocolate digestives, receiving respectively 18
Total 38 66 104 per cent and 15 per cent of the survey vote. A Clandon
Chi-square (x ) = 3.850 industrial analyser was used to measure both glucose and
Degree of freedom = 1 sucrose levels. Two samples from each product and two
readings from each sample were used to calculate an
average sugar content. In determining the extractable fat
content using soxhlet apparatus, the sodium chloride
calories, fat and fibre as influencing their choice. Of these content and the fibre contents, which were measured using
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respondents 73 per cent tried to limit these in their diet, the acid detergent method, three samples of each product
62 per cent limit calories and 38 per cent fat. On balance were taken and the mean calculated from the two closest
there is only partial support for H2; that younger, female, results.
and consumers of a higher social class will be more health
conscious than others.
Chemical Analysis Results
On the whole the results of the survey confirm the idea Generally the experimental results compare favourably
that people perceive cereal bars to be healthy. However, with those provided by the manufacturer. Discrepancies
is this perception justified in terms of the nutritional can be accounted for by the different methods used to
content of these bars, or is it the influence of skilful assess these substances, experimental error and sampling
marketing communications? error. The nutritional content provided by the manu-
facturer will be an average of many samples taken from
the production process. Some bars will have more than
Stage 2 : Chemical Analysis average, some less. It may be that, in the case of Jordan's
The analysis of sugar, fat, salt and fibre contents were raisin bar, for example, the particular experimental sample
carried out on the seven most popular bars as determined had more fibre than average.

Table VI. Chemical Analysis of Cereal Bars

Sample Sugar (g) Salt(g) Fat(g) Fibre (g)

Manufacturers' Manufacturers'
Test Test Test Information Test Information Average
Per 100g Rank Per 100g Rank Per 100g Rank Per 100g Rank Per 100g Rank Per 100g Rank Rank

(raisin) 10.8 1 0.13 2 15.5 5 14.0 4 1.62 4 14.0 1 2.8
(chocolate) 17.7 5 0.37 5 13.3 3 10.0 1 2.29 2 3.0 6 3.7
(honey) 24.7 8 0.02 1 20.5 6 34.2 8 3.16 1 14.0 1 4.2
Chewy 14.5 2 0.40 7 12.8 2 16.0 5 0.68 7 3.3 5 4.2
Cluster 16.4 4 0.66 9 10.5 1 13.3 3 13.3 6 4.0 3 4.3
(nut) 15.8 3 0.38 6 21.5 7 10.9 2 1.45 5 N/A 4.6
Crunch 19.1 6 0.26 3 23.5 8 23.4 7 1.83 3 3.6 4 5.2
Mars 41.6 9 0.29 4 14.6 4 21.3 6 0.43 9 N/A — 6.4
digestive 24.1 7 0.65 8 25.6 9 35.5 9 0.57 8 N/A — 8.4
(The "healthier" the result the higher the rank)

Overall, Jordans chewy raisin bar was deemed to be the Table VII. New Coding for Statistical Analysis
healthiest bar showing the lowest sugar and salt content
and highest fibre content of all the bars. This supports
publicity and advertising claims made for the bar. The least Cereal Bars New Code
healthy bar appears to be Harvest Crunch. Interestingly,
there was some overlap between "healthy" snacks, such Tracker roasted nut A
as cereal bars, and traditional "less healthy" snacks, such Tracker chocolate chip B
as Mars bars and chocolate digestives. Mars bars, in Jordans raisin and hazelnut C
particular, had lower salt and fat content, gram for gram, Jordans honey and almond D
than several cereal bars. It appears that cereal bars in Harvest Chewy chocolate chip E
general are only marginally healthier than traditional
snacks. Harvest Crunch peanut F
Cluster apple and hazelnut G
It is also worth noting the three gaps in the table which
are as a result of manufacturers' labelling practices. The
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pressure has grown over the last few years for more
nutritional information to be displayed on packaging. This and served on white plates at room temperature through
pressure must continue as results are beginning to show. a hatch. Seven bars were tested which resulted in 21 paired
comparisons. To avoid fatiguing panellists, four sessions
were conducted, all of which took place mid-afternoon.
Stage 3: Organolaptic Tests Panellists should be feeling slightly hungry in order to gain
Hedonic scaling, commonly used in sensory evaluation, maximum sensory sensitivity (Hamilton, 1978).
would have been inappropriate in this case since panellists
would have been asked to assess too many variables and Organolaptic Test Results
respondent fatigue may have invalidated the results. For ease of presentation of statistical results each bar has
Untrained panellists were sought because of the need to been assigned a letter (see Table VII).
measure their naïve preferences. In order to ease the
judgement process and to allow the researcher to check
the consistency of each assessor, a paired comparison test
was employed.
Consumers need to
be sure that health food is
Tests were carried out more healthy
under laboratory
conditions Table VIII shows the number of comparisons in which each
cereal bar was preferred. Chocolate chip cereal bars were
found to be most preferred with Tracker chocolate chip
Ten panellists were selected to meet all of the following being slightly preferred to Harvest Chewy chocolate chip.
criteria; be willing to participate, be available for all tasting Before any statistical analysis was conducted a check was
sessions, be in good physical and mental health, and not made on the consistency of the panellists' assessments.
to dislike the food under assessment. At this pilot stage Using the standard deviation of the preferences panellists
considerations of sample structure and size were thought 5 and 7 were found to exhibit 6 and 5 triads respectively:
to be less important than to test protocols and data A circular triad occurs when a subject indicates they prefer
collection mechanisms. Tests were carried out under A to B, B to C and C to A. This finding means that these
laboratory conditions where distractions and any external two panellists' judgements were not consistent and as a
factors such as lighting, ventilation, temperature, etc. result their assessments were removed from the statistical
which might influence the sensitivity of panellists were calculations. Although inconsistency of judgement would
controlled. Panellists were enclosed in separate booths be the norm if no difference existed between the samples,
and asked to refrain from communicating with each other it was considered that this was not the explanation in this
both before and after assessment sessions in order to case.
ensure the independence of assessments. Glasses of
ambient temperature water and apple wedges were made Tests were carried out to determine whether the
available to assessors for them to cleanse their palates differences in preferences were statistically significant.
between sample tastings. To eliminate bias, samples were Figure 1 shows which bars were deemed to be not
cut into similar shapes and sizes, given a three-digit code significantly different from each other at the 5 per cent

Table VIII. The Number of Comparisons in which and hazelnut bar should have been the most preferred and
Each Cereal Bar Was Preferred
Harvest Crunch the least preferred. This was clearly not
the case and H3 is not supported by the data, i.e. cereal
bars with the healthiest nutritional content were not most
Cereal Bar
A B C D E F G Mean SD
preferred by the consumer panel. Perhaps some solace
Panellists can be taken from the outstanding performances of the
two chocolate chip cereal bars which did not fare badly
1 2 3 4 5 6 0 1 3.00 2.160 in chemical analysis. Manufacturers may be able to develop
2 4 5 1 3 6 2 0 3.00 2.160 an extremely healthy base mixture to which they can then
3 3 6 2 1 5 4 0 3.00 2.160 add chocolate chip to increase its palatability to consumers.
4 1 6 2 2 5 4 1 3.00 2.000
5 3 4 0 4 3 2 5 3.00 1.633
6 4 6 0 1 5 3 2 3.00 2.160 Conclusions
7 5 5 3 2 3 0 3 3.00 1.732 Cereal bars are gaining in popularity amongst consumers
8 3 6 2 1 5 4 0 3.00 2.160 as a tasty, healthy, convenient snack. It was found that
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9 2 3 4 4 6 0 1 3.00 2.160 consumers tend to be young (15-24) and that most

10 4 6 1 3 5 2 0 3.00 2.160 consumers have a mental association between cereal bars
and health food. Chemical analysis revealed that many bars
Total 31 50 19 27 49 21 13 with the exception of Jordan's raisin and hazelnut were
only marginally healthier than traditional snack
alternatives, except in the amount of sugar they contained.
The gap between consumer perceptions and reality may
well exist for other products in the health food market.
As an expanding and innovative area of the food industry
it is essential that manufacturers in the market do not lay
themselves open to claims of "hype". Changes in our
eating habits mean changes in the nation's health and it
is essential to maintain consumer confidence in the health
food industry. Consumers need to be sure that health food
is significantly more healthy. This article reports the
results of a successful pilot project; further work is needed
to replicate the study using larger samples.
level. The chocolate chip bars are clearly preferred to the
rest, while the apple and hazelnut Cluster bar is clearly
the least preferred. Nutritionally, the two most preferred References
bars were second and third in the rankings (see Table VI) Euromonitor (1986), Health Foods and Healthy Eating,
although, overall, there was little difference between these Euromonitor Publications Ltd.
two and three of the other bars which were ranked lower. Hamilton, M. (1978), "Panel Selection, Training and Test
Among these three other bars was the Cluster bar which Environment", Home Economics, Vol. 19, pp. 12-20.
was the least preferred in sensory tests. Overall its health Mintel (1988), Healthy Eating, Market Intelligence, p. 29.
ranking was fifth while the healthiest bar of all, Jordan's
raisin and hazelnut, came next to last in the tastings but Marketing Strategies for Industry (1988), Report on the Cereal
was not significantly different to other bars in the middle Market, MSI Data Report, October.
group (see Figure 1).IfH3is to be accepted Jordan's raisin NACNE (1983), Proposals for Nutritional Guidelines for Health
Education in Britain, Health Education Council.

Pari Boustani is a Researcher and Vincent-Wayne Mitchell is a Lecturer in Marketing, both based at the Manchester
School of Management, UMIST, UK.
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