Specialty Foods Go Mainstream…but Remain Special

Specialty Foods Go Mainstream…but Remain Special

“Specialty categories are blooming with the American consumer, and it’s going way beyond the gourmet store. Contributing to the boom are paleo eaters, vegetarians, vegans, young, affluent diners who want to know where their food comes from, Baby Boomers worried about health and wellness…we are everywhere you eat.”

Specialty Food Association President Phil Kafarakis couldn’t be more primed and ready for his organization’s entry into the mainstream. “Everyone’s purchasing these foods now,” he said at the National Restaurant Association conference, “it’s a $127 billion industry that’s growing at 15 to 18 percent a year. And it’s not just a retail play, but that double digit growth can translate into real opportunity on the menu.” According to the association’s latest research, fine dining restaurants are among the fastest growing channels, followed by coffee shops and FSRs, and the sector is ripe for growth as operators seek out specialty products to enhance menus, create efficiencies and provide solutions. Close to 40 percent of specialty food manufacturers produce sustainable products, an attribute that is crucial to consumers. Top specialty foods run the spectrum, from cheese and proteins to snacks and yogurt, coffee and cocoa.

It starts with the supply chain, which is undergoing some real transformation as people want to know exactly where their food comes from, and how the ingredients come together. “It’s the story of the founders of the company, and of the people working in the fields,” Kafarakis said, “it’s all about connecting the story of the food with the maker.” He has been witness to numerous amazing stories of small purveyors whose creative ideas go big time and can sell for millions of dollars – “it happens every day!” Proof points:

  • Be Free Honee, an accidental invention by a young woman who was trying to make apple jelly. Years later, sparked by her concern about the vanishing bee population, she revisited the recipe as a business idea, and now makes her sweet, bee-free treat in four flavors - Original, Mint, Ancho Chile and Slippery Elm.
  • Baruvi Fresh, a deconstructed hummus kit packaged in a paper cup that also serves as a mixing bowl. Consumers add water to packets of organic chickpea puree, organic tahini and spices, to create hummus on the go.
  • Teadrops, made from finely ground organic tea, raw sugar and spices, with information on what farm it originated from on the other side of the world.
  • ReGrained, supergrain bars created by two college students whose home brewing project wasn’t working out, but repurposed all of the spent grain into food, adding granola, quinoa, raisins, chocolate and other flavorful ingredients. Their popular bars are now being acquired by a big brand, a sweet reward for the resourceful duo.
  • Protato chips, a good for you snack that blends potatoes and organic plant protein.
  • Primal Nutrition’s Macadamia Sea Salt Bar, made with collagen sourced from grass-fed bovines. The collagen, an important protein in the body that declines with age, is broken down into individual amino acids that are easier to absorb and digest.
  • Superfoods Chocolate Squares from an Ohio-based family business, offers a line of dark chocolates with superfood ingredients like baobab and chia, enhanced with probiotics.

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