Kind Snacks is calling on bar and cereal companies to be more transparent about the types and amount of sweeteners they use in their products. On Wednesday the company, which markets itself as using real, whole foods with a low glycemic index, unveiled a website highlighting the sugars—both added and natural—used in popular bars, granolas, cereals, and yogurts that are generally considered health foods. The site also pulls back the curtain on a litany of artificial and natural sweeteners, many of which go unrecognized on nutrition labels (even if they’re included in the total gram count). This spans well-known ingredients like cane sugar, agave nectar, honey, and fruit concentrate, to lesser known ones like dextrose, xylitol, and muscovado sugar.
According to Kind CEO Daniel Lubetzky, the campaign is primarily an attempt to educate consumers. “We wanted to highlight packaged foods that are normally healthful,” he says. “Because even in those categories, you also have products that are 30 to 40 percent sugar. People think that they’re eating something healthy but in fact they’re just eating sugar.” Kind says it chose to highlight the top ten bestselling products in granola bars, nutrition bars, granola, cereal, and yogurt, including products by Clif Bar, Kellog, Larabar, Nature Valley, and RxBar, in addition to listing Kind’s own offerings. (While the classic Clif Bar comes in at 31 percent sugar and an RxBar at 25 percent, Kind boats 13 percent sugar.)
“When you go to the ingredients list, you should be aware of the names of sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners, and the most popular names for sugar,” says Keri Glassman, a nutritionist who has consulted with Kind in the past and currenty works with the brand as an influencer. She adds that for most people, a zero-sugar diet is unnecessary. “It’s a matter of picking and choosing the places you’re having it,” she says, “and not having it in all these hidden places.”
Lubetzky says the site will remain live in perpetuity, as a national resource of sorts, but is unsure whether it might expand to include more brands or other food categories. “We might one day donate the site to a third party,” he says, “to manage it in a very nonpartisan way and decide how to continue fostering education.”
(Notably, the campaign arrives a little over a month after Clif Bar ran a full-page ad in The New York Times challenging Kind, Larabar, and RxBar to transition to organic ingredients. Kind says its own campaign has been in the works for six months and is not a response to that advertisement.)
“Every ingredient in our product serves a purpose, helping create a delicious, nutrient-dense product,” an RXBar spokesperson told Outside. “The sugar in RxBars is naturally occurring from real foods like dates and fruit—there is no added or synthetic sugar.” Kind’s website lists only one form of sugar—dates—in RxBars.
In an email to Outside, a Clif Bar representative argued that looking side-by-side at its and Kind’s original bars—the ones highlighted on the new wesbsite—is “like comparing apples an oranges,” because the former is intended as an energy fuel and the latter is intended as a snack. “A Clif Bar’s purpose is to sustain energy for activity with nutritious, wholesome, and organic ingredients like oats. When sugar is used, it’s to provide taste and energy—we look to match the amount of sugar to the amount of energy you need.” The spokesperson also pointed out that Clif makes other products that are lower in sugar, like its Nut Butter Filled bars, which each have between nine and eleven grams of sugar, and a forthcoming line of Whole Lotta snack bars, which have no added sugar and will ship to retail stores in May.
Melinda Manore, a professor of sports nutrition at Oregon State University who has consulted for Clif Bar in the past, says that the idea of a healthy bar versus an unhealthy bar is not as black-and-white as Kind’s website might imply. “There’s a time and place for different kinds of food,” she says. An athlete might need that high-sugar product to refuel in the middle of a long day. And there are plenty of things to consider beyond sugar, too. For athletes, the type of carbohydrate is just as important as the amount. “Because Kind bars are fairly high in nuts, which digest more slowly than other carbohydrates, I’m asking, How quickly do you need this in your bloodstream?” Manore says. While she advocates for whole foods whenever possible, sometimes faster-burning sugars have their place.
Ultimately, it’s the snacking portion of the population that Kind’s campaign is most concerned with. Lubetzky admits that for serious athletes, a carbohydrate-rich product is probably appropriate. “But 99 percent of situations where people are buying nutrition bars, they’re not running a marathon,” he says. “They’re eating it as a snack or after an average workout.” Of course, Manore says, the single best thing a person can do is to snack on real food instead of packaged bars—even Kind bars, with their whole nuts, grains, and dried fruits aren’t as good as eating, say, an apple or a handful of almonds. “Since 70 percent of our population is overweight or obese, they don’t need any of this stuff,” says Manore. “They don’t need a snack bar, they need a piece of fruit.” (Manore adds that this is only the case for snacking. She sees high-carbohydrate foods as important fuel for all athletes during exercise, regardless of weight.)
And Kind is not trying to tell consumers to avoid sugar at all cost. “We are not advocates of demonizing sugar,” Lubetzky says. “We are advocates of demonizing deception and misleading claims.”