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Specialty Food Sales Hit Record High In 2015

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Last updated on June 13th, 2024 at 05:07 pm

The specialty food industry is now a $120.5 billion industry, largely fueled by the growth of small businesses.

According to the Specialty Food Association (SFA), specialty food sales at retail grew to $94 billion in 2015, a 19.7 percent jump since 2013, driven by product innovation and wider availability of specialty foods through mass-market outlets.

Sales through foodservice outlets grew at a faster clip—27 percent—to hit $26.5 billion—as U.S. consumers continue to make specialty food a part of away-from-home meal purchases.

The supply chain also has embraced the importance of e-commerce as a way to sell directly to consumers. Eighty-five percent of manufacturers sell via their own website and 49 percent use a third-party platform such as Amazon. Importers cite online sales as one of their fastest-growing channels.

These findings are from a new report from the SFA produced in conjunction with research firms Mintel International and SPINS/IRI.

The report, “The State of the Specialty Food Industry 2016,” tracks U.S. sales of specialty food through supermarkets, natural food stores and specialty food retailers.

The 10 top-selling categories in the industry are similar to last year. Cheese and cheese alternatives remain at the top and have grown 14.7 percent over the past two years, but frozen and refrigerated meat, poultry and seafood (+23.1 percent) and chips, pretzels and snacks (+22.3 percent) have inched up to the No. 2 and No. 3 spots, respectively.

Refrigerated entrees and prepared meals joined the top 10 after experiencing a 34.5 percent sales increase in two years. Categories with the biggest sales growth are refrigerated RTD tea and coffee; eggs; and jerky and other meat snacks. Unit sales of specialty foods grew 13.7 percent overall to 15.6 billion.

“American consumers continue to move toward specialty foods and away from mass,” says Ron Tanner, VP of philanthropy, government and industry relations for the SFA. “Consumers are looking for foods with fewer and cleaner ingredients, and products that are made by companies with values they care about. All of these define specialty food.”

According to the SFA, many in the supply chain believe non-GMO will be a product claim of growing importance to consumers, with 49 percent of manufacturers planning to introduce products that are non-GMO in 2016. Local products also continue to remain an important way retailers differentiate their offerings.


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Shelby Team

The Shelby Report delivers complete grocery news and supermarket insights nationwide through the distribution of five monthly regional print and digital editions. Serving the retail food trade since 1967, The Shelby Report is “Region Wise. Nationwide.”

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