Driven by rebounding consumer confidence in the economy, sales of specialty food topped $100 billion for the first time in 2014, ringing up $108 billion in retail and foodservice sales, according to a new report from the Specialty Food Association produced in conjunction with research firms Mintel International and SPINS/IRI.
Retail sales of specialty food—broadly defined for the report as products that have limited distribution and a reputation for high quality—sales grew 19 percent from 2012 to 2014 versus a 2-percent increase for all food. The industry, fueled by small businesses, now boasts 15 segments that exceed $1 billion in sales, including cheese, coffee, meat, poultry and seafood, chips, pretzels and snacks, candy, and yogurt.
Retail sales of specialty food hit a record $85.5 billion in 2014, representing 78 percent of total U.S. sales of specialty food. Foodservice sales account for the other 22 percent of all specialty food dollars, reaching $24 billion in 2014. Foodservice is an increasingly important sector, with an impressive growth of 30.7 percent since 2012.
According to “The State of the Specialty Food Industry 2015” report, the Top 10 best-selling specialty food categories are:
- Cheese and Cheese Alternatives—$3.708 billion (up 8 percent from 2012-2014)
- Coffee, Coffee Substitutes and Cocoa—$3.476 billion (up 21.5 percent from 2012-2014)
- Frozen and Refrigerated Meat, Poultry and Seafood—$3.189 billion (up 26.8 percent from 2012-2014)
- Chips, Pretzels and Snacks—$3.112 billion (up 24.6 percent from 2012-2014)
- Bread and Baked Goods—$2.351 billion (up 16.7 percent from 2012-2014)
- Candy and Individual Snacks $2.082 billion (up 27.2 percent from 2012-2014)
- Condiments, Dressings and Marinades—$1.754 billion (up 12.1 percent from 2012-2014)
- Frozen Lunch and Dinner Entrees—$1.666 billion (up 18.7 percent from 2012-2014)
- Yogurt and Kefir—$1.568 billion (up 20.3 percent from 2012-2014)
- Nuts, Seeds, Dried Fruit and Vegetables—$1.339 billion (up 4.8 percent from 2012-2014)
The fastest-growing categories in unit sales are refrigerated pasta and pizza sauces, up 78 percent since 2012, followed by refrigerated pasta and eggs, both up 53 percent. Other notable gainers in unit sales are functional beverages, nut and seed butters and energy bars and gels. Overall, unit sales of specialty food grew 13.6 percent.
Retailers interviewed for the report said “local” is the most important product claim today, and predict it will remain so in three years. Some 66 percent of those surveyed sell products with non-GMO claims.
“The time is now for specialty food,” said Ron Tanner, vice president of philanthropy, government and industry relations for the Specialty Food Association. “Consumers are looking for new tastes, foods with fewer and cleaner ingredients, health attributes, and products that are made by companies with values they care about. All of these define specialty food.”