Specialty foods accounted for 13.1 percent of total food sales last year, according to the report from the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT), entitled “The State of the Specialty Food Industry 2011”, prepared in conjunction with market research organizations Mintel International and SPINS. NASFT defines specialty foods as those that are “foods of premium quality that are often made by small or local manufacturers or have exotic or ethnic flavors.”
In 2010, the 7.7 percent growth in the sector saw sales top $70bn. A year earlier, specialty foods were worth $63bn and new product introductions had slipped 37 percent on 2008 levels as companies cut spending on R&D and marketing in order to concentrate on sales of existing product lines, NASFT said.
Vice president of communications and education for NASFT Ron Tanner said: "The rebound is impressive. As consumers feel more confident about the economy, they are coming back to specialty foods."
New product introductions are yet to resurge, however, remaining at about the same level in the sector in 2010 as the year before, as specialty food makers continue to focus on existing products. But the report noted that launches of premium private label products have slowed, from 518 in 2009 to 455 last year – a trend that the trade association said suggests that consumers are beginning to move back to branded products.
Cheese is the top-selling category in the specialty food sector, with sales of $3.23bn last year, the report said, followed by meats, chips and snacks, bread and baked goods and condiments. Meanwhile, functional beverages, yogurt and kefir are the top three fastest growing categories in the sector.
Gluten-free foods also saw strong growth, with 119 new product introductions last year, compared to 67 in 2009.
Looking ahead, the report predicts that terms like ‘Fair Trade’, ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘sustainable’ are likely to increase in importance for the specialty food industry and drive future sales, gaining ground on ‘all-natural’, ‘organic’ and ‘local’.