Nearly two-thirds of consumers buy specialty foods and beverages, catapulting the industry to $140.3 billion in retail and food service sales last year, according to a new report from the Specialty Food Association and Mintel International.
While the definition of specialty foods is vague, the association’s membership tends to include smaller companies focused on producing premium, craft products.
“The big story is how much specialty food is growing more than all food,” said Denise Purcell, head of content at the Specialty Food Association. “Specialty is up about 13%, and all food is up about 1% in sales. That bodes very well for the industry.”
The latest specialty food and beverage innovation was on display at the Summer Fancy Food Show, held June 30-July 2 in New York, where 2,600 exhibitors featured more than 200,000 products. Specialty food now commands a nearly 16% share of the total food market, led by strong growth in fresh, refrigerated, frozen and plant-based categories.
“Plant-based is so enormous that it’s almost not even a trend anymore; it’s more of a movement at this point,” Ms. Purcell said. “Protein itself is still expected to be a big consumer driver. Jerky and meat snacks look like they’re still going to continue to do well.”
The top five specialty food categories with the highest dollar growth from 2015 to 2017 were water (up 76%), rice cakes (64%), refrigerated ready-to-drink tea and coffee (63%), jerky and meat snacks (62%) and shelf-stable creams and creamers (62%).
“Beverages as a collective category are growing even faster than food categories, according to our new research,” Ms. Purcell said. “At the show, we’re seeingsparkling beverages and functional beverages especially.”
While the core specialty food consumer tends to be between the ages of 24 to 41, the younger generation, ages 18 to 23, is emerging as a key cohort for the industry going forward. These so-called “iGens” are expected to have a significant influence on the state of the specialty food market in the future, Ms. Purcell said.
“It’s early, they’re still forming their opinions, but they are very aware of specialty foods because they’ve grown up with all of these options,” she said. “It doesn’t seem special to them; it just seems like this is how you eat.
“They’re very health focused, wellness focused, they care about what they’re putting into their bodies … they’re not buying in as many categories as the millennial core consumer does yet, and they’re not spending as much, but they’re buying.”
Cauliflower shows no signs of losing steam. The versatile vegetable crops up in a range of traditionally grain-based foods on display at the Summer Fancy Food Show.
Cauliflower is a key component in From the Ground Up crackers and pretzels, Outer Aisle Gourmet pizza crusts and sandwich thins, and Cauli-Flour by Caulipower flour and baking mixes. From Kitchen & Love, globally inspired stir-and-go meals feature minced cauliflower as a replacement for rice. Varieties include Moroccan vegetable harissa, Peruvian vegetable ceviche and Indian vegetable curry.
Other new products include cauliflower hummus from Lantana Foods and a grain-free wrap featuring cauliflower and collagen protein from Cali’flour Foods.
“Cauliflower we think really has staying power,” Ms. Purcell said. “We’ve heard over the years what’s going to be the next kale on restaurant menus, and cauliflower was among the things that came up, but now we’re seeing it go from menus into a lot more products and different products.”
Carbonated juices, waters and teas are exploding in the marketplace. Such sparkling beverages are seen as a healthier swap for sugary sodas, Ms. Purcell said.
“They’re not only mixers for cocktails; they are becoming sophisticated enough that they are cocktail alternatives for people who are choosing not to drink or can’t drink,” Ms. Purcell noted.
Fizzy beverages featured at the Fancy Food Show include Tost, a dry sparkling non-alcoholic blend of white tea, white cranberry and ginger. From Kimino Drinks, Kimino Yuzu combines yuzu juice, organic cane sugar and sparkling water. Element Shrub offers a range of sparkling shrub soft drinks made with organic apple cider vinegar and ingredients such as honeydew, jalapeños, pineapple, turmeric, blood orange, saffron and mint.
Wine Water Ltd., an Israeli start-up, has introduced O.Vine, a line of spring water beverages infused with leftover grape skins and seeds from winemaking. Available in still and sparkling varieties, the non-alcoholic drinks feature the flavors, aroma and health benefits of wine, according to the company.
“The water category is up tremendously, according to our research; it grew 76% between 2015-2017, and in large part that’s due to sparkling waters,” Ms. Purcell said. “That subcategory is really taking off.”
Taste of Africa
A deeper exploration of Middle Eastern cuisine has paved the way for emerging flavors and ingredients from West Africa.
Manitou Trading Co., a division of Woodland Foods, is launching a pair of West African inspired products featuring fonio, a nutty, nutritious ancient grain. Chai Spiced Fonio Breakfast Porridge combines teff and pearled fonio with pistachios, honey, palm sugar and coconut milk. Senegalese Fonio Pilaf is seasoned with a blend of onion, citrus juices and spices similar to Yassa, a staple sauce and marinade of West African cuisine.
A new product highlighted at Summer Fancy Food is Ginjan, a bottled soft drink featuring ginger, pineapples, lemon, vanilla and anise. Brothers and Conakry, Guinea, natives Rahim and Mohammed Diallo founded Ginjan Bros, L.L.C. in New York to commercialize the traditional West African beverage in the United States.
New from Kitchens of Africa is Kaani West African Hot Pepper Sauce, described as “fiery, bold and piquant yet garlicky, bright and complex.” From The Serious Foodie, the recently launched West African Paradise Rub features sweet and spicy African “grains of paradise” in a lemon-pepper blend.
Specialty ice cream brands are churning out traditional Asian flavors. Masala chai, Turkish coffee and orange fennel are among the varieties from Brooklyn-based ice cream brand Malai. A lifelong love of aromatic spices such as ginger, nutmeg, cardamom and saffron led founder Pooja Bavishi to reimagine a classic sweet treat with unconventional flavor pairings.
Humphry Slocombe’s Black Sesame ice cream emerged as the top frozen treat tasted by a panel of judges for the Specialty Food Association’s 2018 sofi Awards and is
described as sophisticated, sweet and nutty with flecks of black sesame mixed in.
A first-time exhibitor at Summer Fancy Food is Brooklyn-based Noona’s Ice Cream, a small-batch brand influenced by a Korean-American heritage. Flavors include golden sesame, turmeric honeycomb, green tea and toasted rice.
A handful of exhibitors at the show produce mochi ice cream, a Japanese confection made with pounded sticky rice.
Tea adds a touch of sophistication to snacks and desserts. Products on display at the Summer Fancy Food Show include jasmine tea-infused maple syrup and white chocolate steeped in chamomile and honey.
ific! Ice Cream produces a range of premium tea-infused ice cream in flavors such as matcha green tea, London mist, chamomile and lavender blueberry. A line
of confections from Infusions by Charlie & Sam’s features chocolate toffee almonds that are triple infused with organic green tea matcha or rooibos.
TeaSquares is a brand of energy snacks in acai blueberry, citrus green tea matcha and vanilla chai varieties. The products feature puffed millet, nuts and seeds, plus green or black tea for a caffeine boost.
“Tea as an infusion in different categories is catching our attention,” Ms. Purcell said. “We’re going to keep an eye on if that shows up in other areas, too.”
Beverages with benefits
Refrigerated juices and functional drinks are expected to make an even bigger splash in the coming years, according to the research from the Specialty Food Association and Mintel. Mushrooms, turmeric and coconut oil are among ingredients predicted to pop up in more ready-to-drink coffees and teas.
At the Summer Fancy Food Show, probiotics were featured in iced tea, coconut water, lemonade and cold-brew coffee. A new apple cider vinegar beverage from
Vermont Village is spiked with collagen, which is linked to skin and joint health.
Another emerging ingredient in beverage innovation is cannabidiol, already a rising star in the supplement industry. This compound of cannabis does not produce psychoactive effects and is heralded for various health benefits. An exhibitor at the Fancy Food Show, Vera Roasting Co. offers organic coffee blends infused with CBD, plus resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grapes and berries.
Fig is featured in a number of new product launches ranging from confections to spreads to crackers. A mainstay of ever-trendy Mediterranean cuisine, fig was declared “flavor of the year” for 2018 by fragrance and flavor supplier Firmenich.
The latest addition to the Peter’s Yard Ltd. lineup of crispbreads is sourdough generously flecked with fig pieces. A new premium mustard product from Plochman combines the brand’s signature stoneground mustard with sweet figs.
Fig is the foremost ingredient in the sofi Award winning vegan salami from Hellenic Farms. Made from dried Greek figs, Aleppo pepper and pistachios, orange zest or smoked paprika, new Fig Salamis are shelf-stable with no added sugars and pair well with cheese.