Specialty Food Industry Sales Hit Record High of $120.5 Billion in 2015

The specialty food industry continues to be a bright spot in the U.S. economy and is now a $120.5 billion-dollar industry, largely fueled by the growth of small businesses.

Mnet 150278 Specialty Food Association Logo Listing
Mnet 150279 Specialty Food Association Logo Listing

NEW YORK, April 20, 2016 (PRNewswire) — The specialty food industry continues to be a bright spot in the U.S. economy and is now a $120.5 billion-dollar industry, largely fueled by the growth of small businesses. Specialty food sales at retail grew to $94 billion in 2015, a 19.7 percent jump since 2013, driven by product innovations 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 has also 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 like Amazon. Importers cite online sales as one of their fastest-growing channels. These findings are from a new report from the Specialty Food Association 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 remains at the top and has 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 number-two and -three 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, vice president of philanthropy, government and industry relations for the Specialty Food Association. "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."

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.

An eight-page overview of the report is featured in the spring issue of Specialty Food Magazine. Those highlights, plus a larger summary report with charts and data can be found at specialtyfood.com/stateindustry2016.

About the Specialty Food Association

The Specialty Food Association is a thriving community of food artisans, importers and entrepreneurs. Established in 1952 in New York, the not-for-profit trade association provides its 3,300+ members in the U.S. and abroad with resources, knowledge and connections to champion and nurture their companies in an always-evolving marketplace.  The Association owns and produces the Winter and Summer Fancy Food Shows, and presents the sofi™ Awards honoring excellence in specialty food.  Learn more at specialtyfood.com.

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