Image: AP

All America is eating right now, it seems, is bars. Bars for breakfast, bars for lunch. Oat bars, paleo bars, protein bars, bars for women. Bars! Bars! Bars!

Outside magazine has published a fascinating deep dive that answers a question you perhaps didn’t realize you had: Why are you surrounded, at all times, by snack bars? They’ve got an entire aisle now, with offerings fine-tuned to every possible market niche:

Carefully laid out in front of you are upwards of 35 brands and 150 individual products: Clif, Epic, Kind, Larabar, Luna, Picky, ProBar, RX, Tanka, Skout, Soyjoy, Taos Mountain, Zing—perhaps dozens more. Although these bars are sometimes barely distinguishable from one another if you remove the wrappers and serve them on a platter, they’re each carefully positioned to target a specific desire among consumers: breakfast, protein, vitality, paleo diet, women’s nutrition, gluten-free diet, and meat (yes, meat), to name a few.

“In terms of growth, bars are unparalleled. It’s the fastest-growing segment in the grocery store,” Clif Bar’s former senior vice president of brand marketing Keith Neumann told the magazine.

And make no mistake, these are at the grocery store rather than the check-out line at some specialty joint for mountain bikers. The PowerBar was a major innovation when it arrived in 1986, offering outdoor athletes a purpose-made snack. Apparently, athletes have increasingly switched over to “energy gels”—but consumers have adopted bars as meal replacements because they’ve got money, but no time. Yes, that’s right, late capitalism strikes again:

Today, though, 75 percent of American bar consumers eat them as a snack and 60 percent replace a traditional breakfast with the more portable option. Moreover, 30 percent of Americans say it’s hard to prepare meals, given their busy schedules. The target consumer is also a marketing VP’s dream. Bar eaters have an above-average likelihood of being both young (under age 45) and wealthy (with a college degree and a household income of $150,000). Clif’s Neumann calls the trend of eating bars to replace meals “the snackification of the way we eat.”

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Read the full piece here; I’m gonna go find a damn vegetable to eat.