Consumers Buying More Specialty Food

Consumers are choosing specialty foods over conventional foods at record levels, according to new research from the Specialty Food Association.

Close to 75 percent of U.S. consumers report making specialty food purchases this year, a major increase since the economic downturn of 2009 when only 46 percent reported that they bought these high-quality products. Consumers surveyed say they spend about one quarter of their at-home food dollars on specialty options like artisanal chocolates, cheeses and oils.

“The results confirm that consumers are responding to the wealth of innovative foods and beverages being produced today by food artisans and entrepreneurs across the U.S.,” says Ron Tanner, the Specialty Food Association’s vice president of communications and education. “Specialty food has become part of the daily diet for a majority of Americans.”

The findings are based on an online survey conducted by Mintel International in August 2013 of 1,486 adults age 18 and older who purchase specialty foods. The results are published in the October issue of Specialty Food Magazine. Specialty foods were defined as foods of premium quality that are often made by small or local manufacturers, have ethnic or exotic flavors and are foods that are distinctive.

Some 43 percent of specialty food consumers use their mobile phones to buy food, and nearly half buy foods with locally-grown ingredients. Genetically modified organisms are emerging as a hot topic for specialty food consumers, who are four times more likely to seek out non GMO foods than are non-specialty food consumers, the survey found.

Specialty food consumers tend to be young, affluent, and live in the West or Northeast. Men are almost as likely to make purchases as women, with 74 percent of men and 75 percent of women reporting buying specialty foods.

For the second year, the top five categories consumers say they buy are chocolate, olive oil and other specialty oils, cheese, yogurt and kefir, and coffee. Salty snacks have jumped from ninth to sixth place among most purchased specialty foods.

Here are more highlights from the report:

  • Nearly three-quarters of U.S. consumers purchase specialty foods.
  • Consumers age 18 – 24 are most likely to purchase, at 82 percent.
  • Taste, quality, and impulse purchases are the top three reasons consumers opt for specialty food.
  • Food discoveries during travel are prompting purchases more than before.
  • Greek food is gaining as a popular ethnic cuisine.
  • More than half of respondents talk about food on Pinterest, Facebook and/or Twitter.
  • Some 40 percent of specialty food consumers buy food online; chocolate and coffee are the top purchases.
  • Nearly two-thirds of specialty food consumers buy specialty foods for everyday meals at home.
  • Home entertaining is on the rise, with 41 percent saying they regularly host guests versus 35 percent in 2012.
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