Sweet Granola Is Out, Savory Granola Is In

From bars to bags, savory granola in flavors like cheese and garlic is on the rise.

For many of us, honeyed granola is an ideal breakfast or lightly sweet snack. In recent months, however, a number of savory granola options have made their way to the market, challenging the conventional notion of where nuts, grains, and seeds can sit in our daily diet.

On the broad commercial side, in May 2023 Nature Valley debuted a line of savory nut crunch bars, which come in three alluring flavors: White Cheddar, Everything Bagel, and Smoky BBQ. They don't contain oats the way Nature Valley's sweet granola bars do, but they're nevertheless a savory version of the company's grab-and-go snack that has long been a staple for many.

Meanwhile, craft granola makers are getting in on the game, too. Granola company Struesli recently debuted its first-ever savory flavor, Savory + Seed, which is loose granola (like the stuff a lot of us pile atop our yogurt) without the sweetness.

What does savory granola taste like?

To get my head in the savory granola space, I tasted Nature Valley's line of savory nut bars as well as Struesli's Savory + Seed.

The bars were a much different experience than the loose granola, which makes sense, as Struesli aims for a neutral product while Nature Valley distinguishes itself with popular snack flavors. I was surprised to find, though, how much the granola and nut mixture itself played into the overall flavor of each bar. I'm a bit of a BBQ flavor fiend, and the Smoky BBQ bar was my favorite of the three; both White Cheddar and Everything Bagel were good, but neither were quite as bold in their added flavor as they were in the granola and nut flavor that formed their foundation.

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The savory offering from Struesli is decidedly more versatile than an individually packaged, brightly flavored snack bar is. Struesli's Savory + Seed is salty and crunchy, and I can see it adding a perfect textural element to just about any savory dish. You might not sprinkle it onto your mixed berry yogurt in the morning, but the product is just as adaptable as the sweet stuff.

Why is savory granola having a moment right now?

Struesli founder Adrienne Lufkin told The Takeout that she sees savory granola as part an overall trend toward savory breakfasts.

"Anecdotally for me, when I start my day with something more protein-packed, more on the savory side, it sets me up for a better day," said Lufkin, noting that she loves to pair savory granola with cottage cheese or avocado toast. "I'm a texture person, so I love a creamy something and a crunchy something together. I feel like when I start my day with something like that, I just have a better rest of my day, as far as eating."

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Lufkin said that although Struesli's Savory + Seed closely resembles granola, she doesn't think it needs to be pigeonholed into fulfilling a breakfast role.

"You can use in so many different ways on so many different things," she said. "It's delicious on a soup, a salad, deviled eggs, or open-faced chicken salad—it's really a delicious crunchy clean topping."

Kate Herbert, senior manager of brand experience at General Mills, told The Takeout that Nature Valley's line of savory bars grew out of a combination of technology and market desire.

"A new technology unlocked the opportunity," she said. "A proprietary binding process enabled us to solve a consumer need for convenient snacks that don't require the use of syrups or sugar to bind the bars together." This, in turn, allowed General Mills to cater to consumers who want to reduce sugar in their diets.

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"As a leader in the industry, we know that bars are desirable as a quick and convenient grab-and-go snack, but the market was flooded with sweeter options and lacked variety for the 63% of Americans who have a strong preference for savory and salty snacks," Herbert said, citing a survey General Mills conducted with Wakefield in 2023. "So, we created the perfect savory option to accompany our already expansive portfolio of bars."

Herbert said that while General Mills can't share sales data, the Everything Bagel flavor has risen as a star in the new line of savory options to become a fan favorite.

What’s the future of savory granola?

"Our team is constantly exploring new ideas, and we're eager to continue bringing new innovation to the category that not only delivers on more cravings, but satisfies snacking solutions across the entire family," said Herbert. So while there are only three varieties of savory granola snack bars right now, that could change in the near future.

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Having begun to explore the world of savory granola options, I'm going to keep some around my house for a while and see if I can reprogram my brain to think of them as a go-to savory snack over, say, barbecue potato chips. It'll be interesting to see whether consumers embrace this burgeoning grocery trend, and whether any fun new flavors arise from it.

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