The outlook for retail is robust, with sales at specialty food stores and natural markets skyrocketing by 42.4 percent and 33.8 percent, respectively, between 2011 and 2013. Mainstream supermarket sales growth was more sluggish, at 6.9 percent. US sales of specialty food and beverages reached $88.3 billion in 2013, a record high for the fourth year in a row and a jump of 18.4 percent since 2011. Cheese dominates specialty food sales at retail, with $4 billion in sales in 2013, followed by the categories meat, poultry and seafood; and chips, pretzels and snacks. The fastest growing categories are nut butters, eggs, and frozen desserts, according to new research from the Specialty Food Association.
"U.S. consumers are more sophisticated and discerning about their food choices than ever before," says Ron Tanner, vice president of philanthropy, government and industry relations for the Specialty Food Association. "Retailers and restaurants of all kinds are responding by offering more specialty foods crafted by makers of artisanal cheeses, innovative vinegars, and health-oriented snacks."
Distributors of specialty food say non-GMO has the highest potential for growth of all product claims during the next three years. Seventy percent of retailers surveyed cite "local" as the claim that interests consumers most today. Energy bars had meteoric growth in 2012; in 2013 the category lost some steam, ranking 21st in specialty food retail sales vs. seventh in 2012.
Creative new products are fueling a continued surge in demand. Finalists for the Specialty Food Association's coveted sofi award for Outstanding New Product of 2014 include ( in the baked goods category) Pivetti Skura Nera Black Pizza Flour from Atlanta Corporation, Callie’s Charleston Cheese and Chive Biscuits from Callie’s Charleston Biscuits, Jansal Valley Almond & Vanilla Sugar from Sid Wainer & Son, and Fine Rye with Fruit & Nuts from Storye Bread.