Ron Tanner, Specialty Food Association vice president of communications and education, said top-shelf foods have shifted from being perceived as once-in-a-while treats, to everyday edibles.
"Consumers are responding to the wealth of innovative foods and beverages being produced today by food artisans and entrepreneurs," he said. "Specialty food has become part of the daily diet for a majority of Americans."
The Specialty Food Association has its finger on the pulse of shopping habits. The group has determined a growing segment of US shoppers are willing to pay top dollar for luxury foods such as artisan chocolates, gourmet olive oil, imported cheese and other high-end items.
Consumers asked about their buying preferences said they fork over a whopping 25% of their at-home grocery budget on these specialty options. The attitudes were gauged through an online project by Mintel International in August 2013 of 1,486 adults.
“Specialty foods” are defined as foods of higher quality. They may be processed by small or local manufacturers, imported into the US, feature ethnic or exotic ingredients or are otherwise distinctive.
Breaking it down
Specialty foods are most likely to connect with consumers aged 18 to 24 (82%) than older, and with affluent people more than middle- or lower-class folk. The genders are nearly equal; 74% of women and 75% of men said they pick up such items regularly.
The top five categories of specialty foods reported by preference are chocolate, olive and other oils, cheese, yogurt/kefir and coffee. Greek foods are the fastest gaining ethnic foods.
Electronic communication means are fueling purchases. About 43% use mobile devices to purchase specialty foods, and more than half use Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and other social media to share their favorites and get tips from friends.