Over the last few decades, Americans’ culinary preferences have certainly evolved. Self-described “foodies” are celebrating variety and quality, as well as the overall experience of exploring new foods and indulging in local items. Specialty foods are ideal for enjoying at-home and are apropos for gifting.
According to the Specialty Food Association’s annual State of the Specialty Food Industry Report, specialty food remains one of the fastest-growing segments. Fueled by increasing interest, sales jumped 9.8 percent between 2016 and 2018, reaching $148.7 billion last year.
Diverse consumer lifestyles are taking specialty foods mainstream. In an effort to reach consumers and generate sales, vendors are embracing vast assortments of products.
Many believe that gift shops are ideal venues for offering these items. “The customer’s mindset is focused on gifting items and small, indulgent treats. This customer generally isn’t as price sensitive either,” said Christie Frazier-Coleman, vice president of marketing for Lehi Valley Trading Company — a snack food manufacturer in Gilbert, Arizona. She believes that specialty foods check all those boxes and offer a way to augment sales.
International specialty foods are the focus for Oregon-based World Foods and its diverse clientele. It’s a-list of innovative faves includes Haku Sakura Cherry Blossom Shoyu; Jose Gourmet Spiced Octopus; TRUFF Hot Sauce; and Juniper Ridge’s Douglas Fir Spring Tip Tea.
“We work with small makers who are just getting into the culinary scene or ones that do not have large distribution networks. Our shops are highly curated, and our customer is open and has a desire to be inspired,” explains Joyce Attar, director of operations, World Foods. A lot of inspiration emerges from customer requests.
World Foods is proud to work with the Good Food Foundation, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, which works with companies that offer tasty, authentic, responsible foods. World Foods also sources at its Good Food Mercantile and travels abroad to uncover new foods.
Attar believes that in-store displays, demos, and tasting events are key. “The consumer must be educated about the true cost of food and have a deeper understanding of why specialty foods are priced higher than conventional foods,” she adds.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is Greig Farm — a third generation, family-run business that focuses on local goods. Since its inception in 1942, the Red Hook, New York, business has provided sustainably-grown, healthy produce and specialty foods. Beyond the farm, market and café, Greig Farm boasts a local craft market and art gallery.
Ken Roberts, market curator, is at the helm of purchasing. “We bring in local goods whenever we can,” said Roberts. The shop offers honey from Ray Tousey; Mu Mu Muesli from The Sharon Springs Granola Company; tea from Harney & Sons; and maple syrup from Crown Maple. Other foods hail from Manhattan and Brooklyn.
In addition to sourcing directly from manufacturers, Greig Farm sources from several suppliers. “I also use Farms2Tables, a Rhinebeck, New York-based service that directly connects buyers with farmers that span a 100-mile radius in the Hudson Valley,” says Roberts. Top performers include honey from Ray Tousey, Crown Maple syrups, and jams from Grey Mouse Farm.
When it comes to display, Greig Farm doesn’t employ any special tactics. “I make sure the aisles are always stacked and I keep it full and neat. It’s not my style to switch things around a lot,” revealed Roberts.
On the Supply Side….
A handful of wholesalers shared information on their top lines. Many hail from the snack category. Chukar Cherries offers authentic “tree-to-table” cherry goodies, which are locally grown and made. Top sellers include the Original Chocolate Assortment (a gift box filled with Chukar’s most loved chocolate cherries and nuts); Honey Pecans (honey-roasted praline pecans covered in premium milk chocolate and dusted with powdered sugar); and Classic Dark Cherries (Northwest-grown dried cherries dipped in artisan dark chocolate).
Lehi Valley Trading Company just launched Simply White Cheddar Puffs and Simply White Cheddar Puffs with Jalapeño; a line extension of its best-selling, award-winning corn puffs called Snackworthy Simply Puffs. At Pelican Bay, it’s the Monkey Bread and Margarita Drink Mix that shine.
Some wholesalers such as Pelican Bay and Lehi Valley Trading Company offer custom lines and labels. “We are open to customizing our offerings to suit a unique need if the volume allows for efficiencies of production,” said Lehi Valley’s Frazier-Coleman. As for ordering private label, it depends on volume, location, seasonality of the items, and purpose for which the products will be used.
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