It's a market that's huge, it's growing every year and holds further potential, so why is it that c-store owners still seem wary of the cereal bar sector?

Cereal bars have shown massive growth in 2008 with a year-on-year increase of 8.3% (AC Nielsen/Burton's year ending September 6, 2008) and the cereal and fruit bars market is estimated to be worth £309m in the UK. Yet according to shopper insight researchers HIM, the penetration of customers buying cereal bars within convenience stores is just 1%.

HIM marketing manager Georgina Wild believes that this can be turned into a positive by a smart retailer, with just a few changes. "There's a fantastic opportunity here," she points out.

Part of the problem may simply be where retailers are siting cereal bars. Says Wild: "I can guarantee that the cereal bars are located in a not-so obvious place along with cakes and cereal boxes and are therefore not an obvious choice to c-store customers.

"The highest penetration category within a c-store is newspapers and therefore cereal bars should be placed near to the newspapers or in stands next to the queue at the checkout," she adds. "We also know that one in four people in the UK leave home without eating breakfast, so there is a perfect opportunity for impulse within this product category."

Cereal bar manufacturers are also keen for c-store retailers to review the category's potential. "The cereal snack market is up from last year and shows that consumers are buying healthier convenience foods," says Jordans convenience and impulse sector manager Jonathan Tew. "This growth presents a huge opportunity for convenience retailers whose impulse fixtures have traditionally been dominated by high-sugar and high-fat confectionery brands."

Burton's has moved to take advantage of the impulse potential of cereal bars by introducing single-bar formats of its product range.

Sue Garfitt, head of insight and category at Burton's Foods, says: "Convenience stores are a key focus for us and we recently launched the Maryland Munch Bars and Jammie Dodger Snack Bars in single format and in CDUs, enabling c-stores to meet demand from consumers for healthier on-the-go snacking products. These units are perfect for merchandising cereal bars by the tills and catch the eye of shoppers."

And Garfitt has some compelling reasons for stocking cereal bars in the food to go or impulse areas: "Convenience is the reason for more than one-third of all food consumption. There are 6.5 billion biscuit consumption occasions, one-third are out of the home, therefore 'on-the-go' portion-controlled packs are in demand."

Kellogg's marketing director Kevin Brennan also encourages store owners to place stock in areas that will attract impulse buyers.

"Kellogg's impulse snacking research shows that 33% of single snacks are bought on impulse in

c-stores. Given the strength of the category and the nature of the snacking purchase, we feel that the single products are particularly beneficial for the retailer to deliver incremental sales."

He adds: "Location plays a big role and retailers should display products in a visible spot so that they can attract the impulse shopper."

Tew believes that healthy eating will play its part in the success of cereal bar market. "Often the healthier cereal snacks are overlooked by small store retailers, but they present a huge opportunity," he says. "They do particularly well when positioned alongside classic confectionery impulse; especially in terms of attracting shoppers who may be looking for something less sweet, if they have missed breakfast, for example."

Burton's Foods marketing director Jaspal Chada agrees: "Healthier on-the-go snacking is a growing consumer trend and cash-rich, time-poor individuals are looking to retailers to provide them with products that meet their needs.

"Cereal bars make an ideal addition to the healthier snacking lines of convenience stores and newsagents."

Adds Garfitt: "Snacks play a key role in keeping up energy levels. A healthy diet is one that is balanced and there is no reason a snacker shouldn't have a cereal bar and a piece of fruit, as both contain nutrients the body needs to be healthy."

Dedication is what it takes

Weetabix marketing controller Tony Corp also believes there's the potential for additional sales in convenience stores. "Unfortunately, most smaller independent stores have no dedicated areas for bars. Cereal bars need to be adjacent to the confectionery and snacking areas in store, using display units," he urges.

To help c-store owners make sense of cereal bar category management, Kellogg's offers a range of services to retailers. "We have a dedicated convenience sales team which helps with merchandising and displays, and we also offer advice and information within the cash and carry environment to help retailers select and display their categories," says Brennan.

He adds: "We offer a range of pricemarked packs, too, to help reassure shoppers that their convenience store gives value for money."

With the recorded growth for the sector, manufacturer support and a growing demand for healthier convenience snacks, there are plenty of reasons to rethink the cereal bar market and the location of products in your store.