More Consumers Buying Specialty Foods

More U.S. shoppers are buying specialty foods this year as they look to better-quality foods like chocolate, cheese and yogurt to liven up their everyday meals.

According to new research from the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade Inc. (NASFT), nearly two-thirds of consumers said they purchased specialty foods within the past six months, an 11 percent increase over 2011, and a big jump from the 46 percent who reported buying these products in 2009.

“Specialty foods are continuing to make gains as more consumers across all age groups and regions are cooking, eating and talking about new foods and updated classics like never before,” said Ron Tanner, NASFT’s VP of communications and education. “This is a good sign for the $75 billion specialty food industry.”

Chocolate is the top specialty food purchase reported for the second year, but cheese and yogurt show big gains. Men are buying more specialty food than ever before, and social media is abuzz about specialty food, with Facebook the predominant platform.

The report, “Today’s Specialty Food Consumer 2012,” is based on an online survey conducted in August by Mintel International of 1,500 adults aged 18 and older and published in the October issue of NASFT’s Specialty Food Magazine. Specialty foods are defined as foods of premium quality, that are often made by small or local manufacturers or have ethnic or exotic flavors—foods that are distinctive.

The prototypical specialty food consumer is young, affluent, and lives in the West or Northeast, according to the research. More than seven in 10 consumers purchase specialty foods in the West and Northeast, with Midwesterners the least likely to make such purchases.

After chocolate, the top specialty foods purchased this year are olive oil and other specialty oils, cheese and yogurt/kefir. Younger consumers are more likely than average to buy convenient and easy-to-prepare foods, including beverages, salty snacks, cookies, salad dressing and cooking sauces. Those older than 65 are often the least likely to buy within these categories.

Other report highlights include:

  • Mean weekly spending on food has increased to $94 from $90 in 2011 per specialty food household, with 22 percent of that spent on specialty food.
  • Taste is the top reason for purchasing specialty foods, followed by recommendations from a friend or relative.
  • Impulse drives more than four in 10 consumers to purchase specialty foods.
  • Diet and health concerns influenced more purchases in 2012 than in 2011.
  • Three-quarters of specialty food consumers have shopped at a farmers market within the past year.
  • Italian and Mexican remain the top international food purchases.
  • Coffee and chocolate are the specialty foods most likely to be purchased online.
  • Family food traditions are important to 79 percent of specialty food consumers.
  • More than half of specialty food consumers purchase foods that support charities.
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