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January 28, 2013

The Specialty Food Industry Is Thriving

who buys gourmet foodI’ve finally had a chance to compile all my notes from the Fancy Food Show and thus this week will be ‘Fancy Food Recap’ week. Be sure to check back on Wednesday and Thursday for two additional Fancy Food-related articles. To get the week started though I wanted to present to you some facts and figures about who the Fancy Food consumer is, based on research by Mintel and the National Association of Specialty Food Trade, and how the industry is doing as a whole these days.

The Industry As A Whole

The news is good and the future is bright for specialty food based on sales figures for the industry as a whole last year.  The industry grew approximately 19.1% from 2009 to 2011 and food manufacturers are saying that 2012 was up from 2011.  In fact, 41% of food manufacturers who were surveyed said that 2012 beat 2011 sales by at least 20%.

Total revenue sales figures for the industry in 2011 were $75.1 billion with $60 billion of that coming from retail sales.

Who’s Doing All This Buying?

The specialty food consumer marketplace has been growing over the years with 59% of consumers saying that they now want specialty food compared to 46% who said the same thing just two years ago.  These people are interested in new ingredients and 81% say that they understand and are willing to pay more for items made from quality ingredients.  In fact, what goes into the food products they eat is so important that 76% of specialty food consumers say that they read nutritional labeling and that goes into their decision-making process.

Whereas a few years ago specialty food consumers could mainly be found on the east and west coasts, now specialty food consumers can be found in every state in the US.  While the majority are still on the coasts, college towns through the US seem to be a hub for specialty food consumers as well.  Not surprisingly given this information, the age group that purchases the majority of specialty food in the US is the 25 – 35 year olds.

These folks are highly knowledgeable about food and cooking and watch, on average 4.2 hours of cooking shows a week.  They also are more social media savvy than average consumers with 72% indicating that they follow/share/and spend time on social media sites compared to 66% of regular consumers.  With all the social media tools out there, Facebook still ranks as their top choice.

What Are They Looking For?

The top five items that special food consumers are looking for are

1. Chocolate

2. Olive oils, vinegars

3. Yogurt

4. Cheese

5. Cold beverages

It does appear, according to the research, that the certified Organic claim no longer holds as much cachet as it once did with these consumers.  This doesn’t mean that organic ingredients aren’t important to these people, but that they understand that not every business is able to spend the money to have their product become certified organic.

Depending on what item or product they’re looking for, these consumers will visit a multitude of stores/farmers’ markets to find it.  Whereas consumers used to be very loyal to one grocery store or specialty food store, these consumers have no trouble shopping at a farmers’ market one day, getting their produce from a farm-based CSA program the next, stopping at a specialty food store for some unique items, grabbing organic meat from Whole Foods, and then going to a grocery store chain for basics.  This means that to you, the specialty food producer, there is no one place you should sell their product but you should try to have as many retail channels as possible open and available to consumers.

Hope that helps give you some direction on who the specialty food consumer is.  As always though, your consumer may differ from the above description based on your product and your local market.  That’s why it’s always important to do your own target market research so that you can devise a marketing plan that is best suited to your specific needs.

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2 comments on “The Specialty Food Industry Is Thriving

  • Ian on said:

    Thank you for the fascinating and helpful information! In the studies you looked at, were there any indications of how consumers in economically-stressed areas of the country may have altered their spending in relation to specialty food?

  • smallfoodbiz on said:

    Great question Ian. Unfortunately the data didn’t provide a detailed enough look at region by region to be able to make any accurate statements. That being said, during the height of the recession we saw that spending slowed for specialty foods so that would lead me to guess that those areas that are slow to recover are still likely not spending as much as some other regions. Wish I could be more specific – I will look into it and see if I can find anything that might help.

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