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Facts & Definitions

The mission of the Specialty Food Association is to “foster a thriving Specialty Food Industry.” Members of the Association, in one way or another, make, sell, represent, buy or in some way deal with Specialty Food Products.

Peggy Shannon, Queen City Cookies

Specialty Foods at a Glance

Specialty food is among the fastest growing industries in the U.S., with sales skyrocketing by 22.1 percent between 2010 and 2012. Last year, dollar volume for the industry grew an impressive 14.3 percent.

To pinpoint the data behind this boom, the Specialty Food Association and Specialty Food Magazine worked with Mintel International and SPINS to track sales of specialty foodproducts through supermarkets, gourmet stores and natural food retailers, as well as to collect benchmarking facts and figures from the supply chain.

You can purchase the full report in the Knowledge Center Store here: The State of the Specialty Food Industry 2013.

Highlights from the 2013 State of the Specialty Food Industry

  • Total specialty food sales in 2012 topped $85.87 billion.
  • Cheeses and Cheese Alternatives is the largest category, with $3.6 billion in 2012, followed by Yogurt and Kefir at $2.3 billion.
  • The fastest-growing categories include Energy Bars and Gels, Shelf-Stable Functional Beverages,Frozen Fruits and Vegetables, Yogurt and Kefir, and Eggs.
  • Only three of the 51 specialty food categories (excluding Other categories) declined between 2010 and 2012: Rice Cakes, Pudding and Shelf-Stable Desserts, and Refrigerated Pasta and Pizza Sauces.
  • Segments that underperformed include Frozen Lunch and Dinner Entrees; Oils and Vinegars; Baking Mixes, Supplies and Flour; and Pickles, Peppers, Olives and Other Vegetables.
  • Snacks had the most new product introductions, followed by Meat, Poultry and Egg Products.
  • Snacks led all categories in new product introductions, followed by Meat, Poultry and Egg Products.
  • Gluten-free food (38 percent) and convenient/easy-to-prepare (37 percent) were the mostlikely characteristics to be included in manufacturer development plans for2013.
  • Average annual sales for specialty food manufacturers are $1.71 million.
  • Ninety-five percent of specialty food manufacturers recorded sales increases in 2012.
  • Importers report that Mediterranean is the fastest growing cuisine, followed by Latin, Italian and Vietnamese.
  • The size of the average specialty food store is slightly over 5,000 square feet, with 1,366 SKUs. Nearly 2,000 customers purchase each week.
  • Ninety-five percent of specialty food stores carry all-natural products and 88 percent feature local, which is defined as being produced within 200 miles of the location.

What's a Specialty Food?

Specialty Food Products as used herein shall mean: foods and beverages that exemplify quality, innovation and style in their category. Their specialty nature derives from some or all of the following characteristics: their originality, authenticity, ethnic or cultural origin, specific processing, ingredients, limited supply, distinctive use, extraordinary packaging or specific channel of distribution or sale. By virtue of their differentiation in their categories, such products maintain a high perceived value and often command a premium price.


Louise Kramer
Public Relations Director
Phone: (646) 878-0130

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