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Specialty Food Sales Reach Record High at Retail

Annual report sheds light on industry’s size, penetration, leading categories
Emily Crowe, Progressive Grocer
In 2022, chips, pretzels and snacks became the first specialty category ever to exceed $6 billion in annual sales.

The Specialty Food Association is taking its annual deep dive into what’s driving the industry, which saw $194 billion in sales in 2022, growing 9.3% year over year. The 20th edition of the association’s "The State of the Specialty Food Industry" report also shows that brick-and-mortar specialty retail increased to a record high of $96.5 billion, driven mainly by conventional retail.

Total grocery share of the specialty industry has been steady over the past two years and is expected to stay around 22% to 23% through 2027. Specialty e-commerce accounted for about 10% of all online grocery sales last year, and that share number is expected to rise slightly through 2024.

[Read more: "KeHE Completes DPI Specialty Foods Acquisition"]

Last year did bring several challenges for the industry, especially when it came to profits, which took a major hit since shoppers were buying fewer items. The association expects 2023 to be nearly as challenging, though recovery is expected in 2024.

“The resilient specialty food industry continues to thrive despite weathering challenges since 2020,” said Denise Purcell, SFA’s VP of resource development. “While food inflation has impacted the market in the past couple of years, that is stabilizing, and the industry is poised for the future with several positives in place. Consumers have more retail channels in which to purchase specialty foods, foodservice is rebounding, and makers are innovating with sourcing, ingredients, and promotion.”

As for the specialty categories that saw the highest retail sales in 2022, chips, pretzels and snacks moved up from third place in 2021 to become the first specialty category ever to exceed $6 billion in annual sales.

The full top 10 specialty food and beverage categories for 2022 in retail sales were: 

  1. Chips, pretzels, snacks
  2. Meat, poultry, seafood (Frozen, refrigerated)
  3. Cheese and plant-based cheese
  4. Bread and baked goods
  5. Coffee and hot cocoa, non-RTD
  6. Entrees (Refrigerated)
  7. Chocolate and other confectionery
  8. Water
  9. Desserts (Frozen)
  10. Entrees, lunch, dinner (Frozen)

The top 10 fastest-growing specialty food and beverage categories in 2022 were: 

  1. Energy and sports drinks
  2. Tea and coffee, RTD (Refrigerated)
  3. Entrees (Refrigerated)
  4. Breakfast foods (Frozen)
  5. Cream and creamers (Refrigerated, Shelf stable)
  6. Chocolate and other confectionery
  7. Baby and toddler food
  8. Cookies and snack bars
  9. Soda
  10. Appetizers and snacks (Frozen)
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