Consumers are choosing specialty foods over conventional foods at record levels, according to new research from the Specialty Food Association, New York. Close to 75 percent of U.S. consumers report making specialty food purchases in 2013, a major increase since the economic downturn of 2009 when only 46 percent reported that they bought these high-quality products. Consumers surveyed said they spend about one quarter of their at-home food dollars on specialty options such as artisanal chocolates, cheeses and condiments.
“The results confirm that consumers are responding to the wealth of innovative foods and beverages being produced today by food artisans and entrepreneurs across the U.S.,” says Ron Tanner, vice president of communications and education.
Specialty food is among the fastest growing industries in the U.S., with sales skyrocketing by 22.1 percent between 2010 and 2012. Specialty foods are defined as foods of premium quality, often made by small or local manufacturers, have ethnic or exotic flavors and are foods that are distinctive. Specialty food consumers tend to be young, affluent and live in the West or Northeast. Men are almost as likely to make purchases as women, with 74 percent of men and 75 percent of women reporting buying specialty foods.
Condiments, which include a variety of items, both refrigerated and shelf stable, is one of the most dynamic categories of specialty foods. The largest category includes condiments and marinades, those products found in the ambient center-of-store aisle. From 2010 to 2012, dollar sales of this category grew 8.6 percent. However, the fastest-growing condiment category is chilled products. From 2010 to 2012, refrigerated condiment dollar sales increased 15.5 percent. This is likely due to consumer perception that refrigerated products are cleaner and fresher, two attributes currently driving sales of all foods.
Tomato Pesto with Kick
Italian Foods Corp., Raleigh, N.C., introduces La Piana Sundried Tomato Pesto, which is imported from Italy’s Umbria region. The pesto has an intense tomato flavor from the sundried tomatoes as well as richness and texture from cashews. The red pesto is flavored with garlic, delicate Grana Padano cheese and a pinch of chili pepper to lift the taste of the other ingredients and leave just a spark of flavor on the tongue. In addition to working well over pasta, it makes a great spread on sandwiches or as a dipper for chicken and mild white fish. The pesto comes in 6.3-oz. jars and has a suggested retail price of $6.19.
Maple Balsamic Vinegar
York, Maine-based Stonewall Kitchen, a specialty foods industry leader, grows its oil and vinegar line. New Maple Balsamic Vinegar balances sweet maple with tart balsamic to create a uniquely rich and multi-layered culinary experience. It’s great on salads, as a marinade or drizzled over cooked vegetables, rice and pasta. There’s also a new White Truffle Oil, which has an earthy flavor that tastes great on bread and in salads. And though this new olive oil was designed specifically for bread, Maine Sea Salt and Black Pepper Dipping Oil also is great for sautéing and on salads.
Flavors Layered in Mustard Sauces
The company that started the fruit and pepper sauce trend in the late 1990s with the Original Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce now gets creative with mustard. Fischer & Wieser Specialty Foods Inc., Fredericksburg, Texas, recently debuted three multi-flavored Mustard Sauces: Hickory and Cracked Black Pepper, Raspberry and Wildflower Honey, and Salted Caramel. The three new offerings join the company’s existing mustard sauce — Sweet, Sour and Smokey — which has won numerous accolades in specialty food competitions. “We have seen many of our gourmet sauces inspire great recipes over the years,” says Case Fischer, CEO and president. “With this launch, we’re looking forward to hearing about new dishes ours fans create.”