PORTABLE SNACKS JUST ABOUT A $1 BILLION BABY

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Kellogg, General Mills, Nabisco and Quaker Oats Co. have extended their cereal rivalry to a fast-growing battlefield: the fight for the lunch-box snack business.

Call them portable snacks, wholesome snacks-whatever. This market, largely composed of fruit snacks, granola bars and cereal bars, grew 8% in the last year and is closing in on the $1 billion mark.

"Consumers are looking for convenience and portability-and portion control," said a General Mills spokeswoman. "And kids just like variety in snacks."

Variety is what they're being offered. Strong sales of three very different segments-the reborn granola bar market, the fruit snacks segment and packaged meals led by Kraft General Foods' Lunchables-have spurred food marketers to introduce everything from cookies and pretzels with frosting or cheese dips, to bars made from famous cereal brands. The rules: The snacks have to be packaged as single servings, low in fat and not be perceived as candy.

General Mills has bombarded the market with new products. To its $200 million Betty Crocker fruit snacks business-ruled by licensed properties and fun shapes-General Mills has added Fruit String Thing, Rollerblade Fun Snacks and, most recently, X-Men snacks. General Mills' Nature Valley brand added low-fat chewy bars and bite-size snacks earlier this year.

General Mills has a new twist: It's moved into limited distribution Pop-Secret Popcorn Bars, in crunchy, caramel/chocolate and caramel flavors.

Kellogg USA, whose snack sales increased 50%, has long wanted to create a portable cereal market. It's now scoring with Nutri-Grain and Low Fat Granola bars.

In early 1995, Kellogg will double its snack presence with Rice Krispies Treats marshmallow squares and Pop-Tarts Minis. Kellogg's snacks will be available in vending machines.

Nabisco Foods Group has gradually broadened distribution of its line of snack bars introduced in February: granola bars under the Chips Ahoy!, Oreo and Nutter Butter brands, and SnackWell's bars.

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