Specialty foods driven by quest for premium, says Mintel

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Flavor Taste Food Mintel

Consumer demand for quality and taste as well as an increased
interest in international food traditions are key drivers for the
specialty foods market in the US, says a new report by Mintel.

Almost three quarters (73 percent) of the nation's consumers now report purchasing specialty foods, compared to 64 percent just one year ago, according to the report published this month. Mintel defines specialty foods as those products that are of premium quality such as high-end chocolate, coffee or cooking oil. These foods are generally considered 'unique', and may be made by small or local manufacturers or have exotic ethnic flavors. Other products that fit into this category include specialty beverages, coffee/tea, chocolate, cheese and olive oil, which more than half of specialty food purchases report buying. The products that fall under this category are also referred to as 'premium', 'fancy' and 'gourmet', and they are often - but not always - more expensive that regular counterparts. Although 82 percent of the population that buys food within this category is willing to pay the extra price for the products, cost remains the primary barrier for 68 percent of those consumers who report not purchasing specialty products. According to Mintel, taste is the major impetus behind purchases, cited by 88 percent of consumers in the specialty food category. Quality is second, at 63 percent. Two thirds of consumers say they purchase specialty products for the pleasure of giving themselves a treat, while just over a third said they buy these products for special occasions, such as birthdays or holidays. The new report finds that the typical specialty food shopper tends to be younger and more affluent than the average consumer. They are also more likely to buy products that are natural, organic, kosher and halal, with one reason for this being the higher quality linked to this type of product. The category is also significantly boosted by international travelers, who are likely to embrace international food traditions and return to the US with a new interest in finding these same ingredients in their hometowns. Ethnic diversity within a nation is also one of the leading means of introducing new food traditions to a community, and also encourages consumers within that community to expand their food horizons, said Mintel. Out of the 1,092 specialty food consumers surveyed by Mintel in July 2007, 61 percent reported buying Hispanic products, and 55 percent said they buy Asian products. In addition, specialty food purchasers report that 46 percent of the specialty products they buy are sourced locally. A further 29 percent of foods are sourced internationally, suggesting that there is lots of room for importers to expand into the American specialty market. Only 11 percent of specialty food purchases are artisanal, indicating that these products are not being promoted enough to specialty food shoppers, or that they are not consistently available, said the report, which is a companion to Mintel's NASFT State of the Industry Report​ published in May this year. In terms of future trends, Mintel suggests that specialty manufacturers and retailers are likely to continue to find an audience for their products as consumers' interest in new flavors and presentations continues to grow. "Some of the current 'buzzwords' surrounding specialty food marketing, including 'organic', 'single-sourced', 'natural', 'handmade', and 'artisanal', show no signs of losing popularity,"​ writes the report. "While some fads cycle through the specialty and mainstream channels rather quickly (e.g. 'tropical', 'Caribbean'), others seem to be picking up strength, to the extent that they are becoming mainstream (e.g. fair trade). Either way, the market for specialty products continues to grow as consumers demonstrate a consistent interest in trying new things."

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