Consumers Returning to Specialty Foods

Consumers have returned to specialty food in a big way this year after two years of reigned-in spending, according to new research from the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade Inc.

Improving economic conditions and the lure of an affordable luxury have brought an estimated 37 percent of U.S. consumers back to specialty foods. New data shows 63 percent of American consumers purchased specialty food in 2010, up from 46 percent in 2009, and 56 percent in 2008. The increase is across all age groups, with 18-24 year-olds purchasing the most specialty food, followed by 25- to 34-year-olds. Women and consumers in the Northeast reported the highest frequency of purchases.

These are some of the findings presented in “Today’s Specialty Food Consumer 2010,” the NASFT’s annual report on consumer purchasing habits and trends. The research was conducted in July 2010 by Mintel International and Toluna USA based on a survey of 1,500 adults aged 18 and older.

“Specialty food consumers cut back on buying in 2008 and 2009, but they always expressed a desire to return,” said Ron Tanner, NASFT VP of communications and education. “Although consumers remain cautious, they are clearly making specialty foods a bigger part of their lifestyles.”

The top specialty food purchases reported were coffee, chocolate, olive oil/other specialty oils, cheese and cold beverages. This year 70 percent of those surveyed said they buy specialty food “to treat myself,” up from 61 percent of those surveyed in 2009. Supermarkets are the biggest source for specialty foods, but farmers markets have gained as consumers increasingly support local producers.

Here are some other highlights from the report:

- Farmers markets have grown to become the fourth most significant source of specialty foods.
- Specialty food consumers spend one-quarter of their retail food dollar on specialty items.
- 91 percent of specialty food consumers spend at least two hours online away from work but just 17 percent are active on Twitter and 11 percent on LinkedIn.
- Family food traditions are important to 83 percent of specialty food consumers.
- The average specialty food consumer watches 4.5 hours of food television each week.
- While 71 percent of specialty food consumers report purchasing more private label and store brands within the past year, only 49 percent say they will do that in the future.

The NASFT is a nonprofit trade association established in 1952 to foster commerce and interest in the specialty food industry.

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