Launch: Protein bar disguised as Hostess cake snacks

Steve’s breakdown: This brilliant idea from thinkThin needs an agency. Their AOR is an ex-Ratti Report member and though I loves those guys, they are completely wrong for this segment. Michele Kessler is the CEO and she can be reached at michele@thinkproducts.com.

VENTURA, CA: Brief:

  • thinkThin, a Los Angeles-based maker of protein bars and other foods, is rolling out a product called thinkThin Protein Cakes with the tag line “Protein that knows how to party.”
  • The cakes come two to a package and are offered in three flavors — chocolate cake, red velvet and birthday cake. Product labels state that each cake has 170 calories, 12 grams of protein and 1 gram of sugar. The thinkThin Protein Cakes are also gluten-free, GMO-free, kosher, and contain no artificial colors or flavors.
  • “Innovation in our category is so often guided by the traditional protein bar shape, and we wanted to break out of that mold,” Michele Kessler, CEO of thinkThin, said in the company release. “We wanted to offer a solution to bar fatigue with a unique product form and decadent flavor combinations while delivering on the nutritional profile that our consumers know and expect from us.”

It’s unclear what consumer demographic this product line is targeting, but it certainly hits on simultaneous demand for nutritional value-adds and sensory indulgence. The product is also a far cry, nutritionally speaking, from another brand that offers the same type of treat: Little Debbie snack cakes.

Both brands offer similar product varieties, but thinkThin’s products are much healthier. For example, two Little Debbie Red Velvet Cream Filled Cakes (73 grams) contain 330 calories, 16 grams of fat, 130 milligrams of sodium, 45 grams of carbs, 35 grams of sugar and 2 grams of protein. By contrast, two of thinkThin’s Red Velvet Protein Cakes (44 grams) contain 170 calories, 5 grams of fat, 85 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbs, 1 gram of sugar (but 12 grams of sugar alcohol from erythritol) and 12 grams of protein.

But does this nutritional difference matter to consumers who are reaching for an indulgence product? It seems unlikely that a shopper would stop to scour the label of a product they already know is pretty junky. Still, protein is top of mind for both average and hyper health-conscious consumers, which could give thinkThin an edge, despite Little Debbie’s legacy. The famous snack cake brand claims it makes up about one-third of the U.S. snack cake market, using IRI data.

Still, thinkThin’s low sugar levels could turn off shoppers looking for an indulgent treat, and health-conscious consumers may prefer to get their protein from a product with a stronger nutritional halo, like protein bars. In its release, thinkThin said it created its cake products as “solution to bar fatigue,” predicting that consumers will view its offerings as unique, decadent vehicles for the protein they crave.

This is one of many recent products that appears to play on childhood nostalgia for millennials, bringing an adult twist to a favorite childhood item. thinkThin’s new cakes may be targeting the 20-something who enjoyed getting a two-pack of Little Debbie snacks in a lunch box. Products such as protein-packed Nesquik and Nomva’s functional smoothies in pouches also take consumers back to their youth, but have the added health benefits adults want.

It will be interesting to see how shoppers react to these products, and if consumers will be able to equate the word “cake” with “health” or “better-for-you.” thinkThin certainly isn’t the first brand to try to marry consumer desire for sweets with nutrition, but only time will tell if its products will be purchased as an everyday snack rather than as a novelty item.

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