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  • Industry Voices: The Future of Specialty


    Denise Purcell
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    Optimism is high among the specialty food supply chain, who weighed in in the recently released State of the Specialty Food Industry report, on what the future holds for specialty post-pandemic. Here is some of what they had to say about growth, values-based shopping, diversity and inclusion, and retail innovations.

    “That crystal ball after last year got even murkier. We’re excited because we’re leaning into the mission to grow, we’re adding another fulfillment center and actively expanding the network to serve our members. We see it as a huge year of growth. We view it as getting back on track to the incremental steady growth that we were had prior to the tailwind that we had in 2020. What a great year to be in food and what a great year to introduce people to new products and tell your stories and do great work with food.”
    -chief merchandising officer of a specialty ecommerce retailer

    “There was an underlying sort of tension in our society that led to this moment where people wanted to have an opportunity to express themselves and basically vote with their dollars. 
         We’ve heard from customers ‘supporting brands that are doing good makes me feel good.’ There’s a massive opportunity here to transform the shopping experience itself—it’s not just buying the stuff that you need, but inducing an emotional experience that makes you feel good about what you’re doing—supporting great brands that are making a positive difference in this world.”
    -CEO, cofounder of a specialty ecommerce retailer

    “We should all be optimistic because specialty products and health and wellness products are what people need. Consumers are going to come out of the fog in the last year and realize that what they eat is important to their long-term health and the health of their families.”
    -CEO of a specialty chocolate brand

    “Pre-pandemic, we launched a financial assistance and visibility program for suppliers that are women-, minority-, LGBTQ-, veteran-, and disabled-owned. We’ve had so many more requests from retailers to show them more examples of suppliers like this. With the increase in interest, there will be more callouts on shelves and in campaigns around those companies.”
    -SVP, category management and growth solutions for a specialty distributor

    “I’m hearing from the manufacturer and vendor side that they are not fully ready with the pack sizes to support the foodservice business, which is very concerning. It’s not going to be an option for very long for foodservice to take retail packaging. On the flip side, are restaurants going to continue to have these slimmed down menus that drive down margins? That could very much change the shape of the industry for a long time.
         We expect retail food to remain strong in terms of being better than pre-COVID numbers. Within that, we expect specialty to continue growing at a much stronger rate than conventional food. I think the foodie culture has been exasperated, but its grown [differently] with everybody cooking at home and watching TV food shows.”
    -national sales director at a specialty importer and distributor

    “We predict innovation stations will pop up within retail to try to bring excitement back into stores, creating an area for new products to drive trial and awareness.”
    -SVP, category management and growth solutions for a specialty distributor

    “It will be interesting to see the evolution of how brick-and-mortar operations shift, whether curbside and deliveries become an even bigger focus. With ghost kitchens, it’s pretty phenomenal to think about what you can accomplish if you don’t have massive numbers of customers in your building every day.”
    -chief merchandising officer of a specialty ecommerce retailer

    You can learn more about market growth, fluctuations, and drivers, as well 10-year category tracking and forecasts by purchasing the State of the Specialty Food Industry, 2021-2022 Edition

    And weigh in on what you think the new post-pandemic industry norms will be in our discussion in the Community Hub

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