Today’s Specialty Food Consumer

‘Today’s Specialty Food Consumer 2016’ reveals that a whopping 60 percent of consumers have purchased a specialty food or beverage in the past six months—up from 47 percent in 2015.

The world of specialty food is changing before our eyes, with more consumers jumping on board the foodie wagon every day.

While the industry’s core clientele has been led by adventurous and culinarily savvy Millennials in the past, “Today’s Specialty Food Consumer 2016,” a report produced by the Specialty Food Association and Mintel, reveals that 60 percent of all consumers have bought a specialty food or beverage in the past six months, which is a considerable jump from 47 percent in 2015. Plus, in 2016, more consumers said that they are aware of the term “specialty food,” and more reported understanding what the term means.

However, each generation of consumers is attracted to different products for different reasons. But it’s clear across the board that they’re all expanding into more product categories. According to the SFA report, the average specialty food shopper purchased within six core categories in 2015. In 2016, shoppers purchased in an average of 10 categories, proving they are becoming more familiar with the likes of artisan and premium food items.

With the industry’s expansion comes a slew of innovation from myriad companies, all eager to create the next break-through product, original flavor or total game-changer in this space. Manufacturers are giving the crowds what they want: a bold taste, creative designs, health and ethical claims, and convenient to-go options. But it’s ultimately up to retailers to decide which products are best for their customers, and a lot of help in that process can come from breaking down the qualities and desires of today’s consumers.


Between their early 20’s and mid-30’s, this group still drives the bulk of the demand for specialty foods. Those between the ages of 25 and 44 are actually the most likely purchasers of specialty food, followed closely by younger customers ages 18 to 24 and the emerging Generation Z or iGeneration (born between 1995 and 2007).

All have proven to use specialty food products for the widest variety of reasons. As the generation of at-home entertaining, Millennials purchase premium products to share with friends, impress and partake in culinary adventures. They enjoy specialty foods as treats and self-indulgences; as everyday snacks to replace meals; and as premium ingredients to aid their at-home culinary endeavors. They’re also most likely to ask about recipes, meal preparation and education on the product itself.

This is the generation of authenticity and information, so they want to engage with your staff to learn about products with a story or a company’s ethical mission. This is also the generation of convenience and, as such, they expect to see specialty food products in not just grocery stores but at all merchandise outlets.

Generation X

Now in their 40’s and 50’s, Generation X is making waves in the specialty food landscape. Nearly two-thirds of Gen-Xers report buying specialty foods, and they’re very interested in products of functionality, gravitating towards multi-use sauces and spreads, meal kits, pasta sauces and other meal enhancers that help them cook at home or improve a take-out meal. They’re also the most likely to make a purchase as a result of sampling. Personal connections with retailers are important to Gen-Xers, as they like to know the people and the story behind the shop they patron.

Additionally, this generation is increasingly health-conscious and are most likely to check labels for ethical and health claims and gravitate toward fresh, quality and clean ingredients. They have been exposed as the group who most believes GMOs should never be used in food and beverage products.

Baby Boomers

Boomers consider themselves knowledgeable about food, and they expect your staff to be knowledgeable, too. Like their Millennials counterparts, they have an excitement and a desire for new experiences, which drives their specialty food purchases. They’re seeking products that offer a premium, luxurious and pleasurable experience.

This generation is also the most health-conscious. Now between the ages of 52 and 70, they are taking their health seriously and report eating more natural foods with fewer artificial ingredients and preservatives. They are also the most likely consumer group to purchase products that claim to be fair trade, ethical or sustainable.

Not ones for to-go items or short cuts, Boomers enjoy the process of cooking at home and are attracted to from-scratch recipes. They also like to shop at stores where they agree with the company’s values or philosophy.

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