Specialty food saw a record year in 2014. For the first time ever, total U.S. sales of specialty food topped $100 billion, with an increase of nearly 22 percent over 2012 to $109 billion, according to this year’s “State of the Specialty Food Industry” report, produced by the Specialty Food Association and Mintel.

Retail sales in multi-unit outlets, specialty food stores, and natural grocers hit $85.5 billion. The market’s growth has slowed slightly, however, since its rebound after the recession, likely due to its maturity.

Foodservice sales account for 22 percent of all specialty food dollars, or $24.1 billion. Sales of specialty foods have grown 30.7 percent in the foodservice channel between 2012 and 2014, versus 19.5 percent in retail channels.

The market size for the specialty food industry is estimated by SPINS/IRI three-year scanner data sales for multi-unit, specialty, and natural supermarkets (excluding Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s) for sale in 58 food and beverage segments. There have been noteworthy changes to this year’s methodology.

Methodology Changes
To increase the accuracy of its research, the Specialty Food Association and Mintel reevaluated the methodology for reporting sales of specialty foods through mainstream, natural, and specialty food channels. For mainstream and natural channels, Mintel used SPINS/IRI sales scanner data directly for the 2012–2014 time period, rather than estimating growth from the prior year’s report. Mainstream channel sales are higher and represent a bigger piece of the pie in this methodology, accounting for roughly 82 percent of retail sales. Mintel notes this methodology reflects the increased penetration for specialty foods in mainstream outlets.

Mintel also reassessed the specialty channel to come up with a more accurate market sizing methodology. In addition to gathering SPINS/IRI sales data for this channel, Mintel collected retailer survey respondent numbers (average transactions per week, average transaction size) that were then annualized. After further review, Mintel estimated that SPINS and survey data combined represent roughly 60 percent of the total channel’s sales.

Report Highlights
Here are some top-level statistics on the size of the specialty food industry at retail and top-selling categories. For the Summary and Full Report, please see below.

More than four-fifths of specialty food sales, or $42 billion, are through mainstream stores.
Dollar sales through specialty food stores have increased by 18.5 percent over the past two years.

The majority (51 out of 58) of specialty food and beverage segments grew from 2012 to 2014, with many achieving double-digit sales growth. The specialty food market overall grew 19.2 percent.

The specialty food market now has 15 segments worth more than $1 billion, led by cheese and cheese alternatives; coffee, coffee substitutes, and cocoa; and frozen and refrigerated meat, poultry, and seafood.

More highlights from the supply chain:

•    48 percent of manufacturers reported growth of 20 percent or more in 2014.
•    Manufacturers, importers, and brokers all say non-GMO will be the top natural/ethical product claim in three years.
•    Distributors say specialty food stores are their fastest-growing channel.
•    Importers say Mediterranean, Italian, Latin, and Spanish are the top cuisines emerging in 2015.
•    Specialty grocery accounts for 32 percent of sales in specialty food stores.

The Specialty Food Association’s State of the Specialty Food Industry is a joint research project prepared by Mintel and SPINS/IRI. The research encompasses three years of sales data for 58 specialty food categories, pulled from the SPINS database of mainstream and natural food stores. In addition, Mintel surveyed specialty food manufacturers, importers, distributors, brokers, and retailers to develop the statistics presented in this report.

Specialty foods are defined as foods or beverages of the highest grade, style, and/or quality in their respective categories. Their specialty nature derives from a combination of some or all of the following qualities: uniqueness, origin, processing method, design, limited supply, unusual application or use, extraordinary packaging, or channel of distribution/sales.

READ DEFINITIONS AND BRAND EXAMPLES for the 58 categories included in this research. (DOWNLOAD PDF)