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  • Insights and Takeaways from SFA's New Consumer Research

    Denise Purcell

    The Specialty Food Association's recently released 2021-2022 edition of Today’s Specialty Food Consumer, a companion report to the annual State of the Specialty Food Industry research, dives into generational preferences, shopping habits, and purchasing motivators. Here are six takeaways from the new research.

    1. Diversity and sustainability support. Younger consumers care deeply about products from diverse suppliers, including women-, BIPOC-, LGBTQ- , veteran, and disabled-owned business, as well as those that are better for the environment (sustainable, upcycled, etc.), and they show it with their food dollars.
    2. Supermarket’s generation gap. Traditional supermarkets, long the top channel for specialty food sales, are experiencing a generation gap that could shift the market in time. While Boomers far and away prefer supermarkets to buy specialty food and beverages, the channel sees a significant drop with Gen-Xs, and gradually diminish in popularity with younger generations. Convenience, discounters, and clubs are on the rise, a situation that will grow as more Gen-Zs reach adulthood. Supermarkets who flourish are likely those focused on convenience, local, and small formats.
    3. New online audiences. The online grocery consumer landscape shifted in 2021 to bring in many more mature adults. Specialty brands must modify their marketing focus online beyond Gen-Zs and Millennials. Gen-Xs are a generation to focus on. They upped their online orders significantly during Covid, and likely have the greatest need for online ordering over the next year.
    4. Generational messaging. Specialty brands should tailor and emphasize messaging to different generations. Older generations want to hear more about products’ quality ingredients, while younger generations resonate with new and interesting innovations. Choosing products with health in mind is universally important to all generations, even more so as a result of the pandemic.
    5. OK Boomers! Boomers’ buy-in has been strong during the last two years. While it’s true that they’re less likely than others to be SFCs, when the do engage, they’re among the most likely to buy given categories at least occasionally. Targeting Boomers is an under-tapped opportunity for specialty companies, with so much emphasis often placed on young generations.
    6. Impulsiveness lives. Specialty food makers and retailers shouldn’t underestimate the “X” factor—impulse purchasing. Even in a year that severely impacted food discovery, with consumers reducing shopping trips, limiting browsing, and curtailing time to be curious, some 30% of SFCs made impulsive specialty purchases. Numbers have consistently risen over the last four years.

    You can read research highlights in the fall issue of Specialty Food Magazine. And the full report is available for purchase here or bundled with the State of the Specialty Food Industry research and category forecasts. SFA members receive a discount on pricing.


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