By Meagan McGinnes // April 3, 2018

Protein has officially busted out of Gold’s Gym and is free from its “do you even lift, bro” stigma. In doing so, it has broken free from the bar, as well.

That’s the nutrition bar, until now the most popular format for protein-supplemented CPG outside of powders.

For many, a high protein diet is key to a healthy lifestyle; but as that need for protein has grown, so has the industry’s recognition that protein’s new consumers eat differently than its stereotypical, bicep curling consumers of the past. Cue the creation of protein snacking: bites, balls and formats in between.

“The ball/cluster innovation is interesting however because it is a new format, but they really fill the same need as the bars do: convenient, healthy snacking,” said Richard Gilmore, director of center store category management at retailer Gelson’s. “Every month there is something new and innovative [in bars, balls and clusters] and we continue to be surprised by how successful most of this innovation is.”

During this last month’s Natural Products Expo West, brands like Hail Merry, Siren Snacks, Health Lab and Simply Fuel all showcased protein bites and balls. But while they were some of the few sampling these new formats, they weren’t the only ones talking about them. At least four leading protein bar brands said they have plans to launch new protein snacking formats, with at least two expecting those products to hit shelves before the end of the year. For some, it’s finally a chance to move into their true form — they noted they were originally hesitant to enter the snacking space because of some unspoken precedent that functional brands need to start with a bar in order to enter the protein market. A few also noted that before now, there was not enough data to prove an interest in these formats over tried-and-true bars.