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  • Today's Specialty Food Consumer

    Denise Purcell

    The Specialty Food Association has released its 2021-2022 edition of Today’s Specialty Food Consumer, a companion report to the annual State of the Specialty Food Industry research. Separating this research into its own report this year has allowed us to dig deeper into the behavior patterns, preferences, and habits of specialty food and non-specialty food consumers.

    The good news is that specialty food purchasing remains strong with nearly threequarters of adults (73 percent) reporting that they buy specialty foods and beverages. But, a year and a half of a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, social unrest, and political divide isn’t without its consequences, and they are surfacing in consumer enthusiasm. This year’s survey results show more lethargic response rates to questions pertaining to specialty food usage, behaviors, and attitudes.

    The research indicated this ennui is more a sign of the times than a red flag, as sales and consumer interest are still strong. But the annual report does offer insights into areas where consumers are engaging, which can help with marketing products and attracting shoppers in-store. Here are three that stand out:

    • Carry diversity-owned brands.  Some 19 percent of all adults—not just specialty food consumers—said that they prefer to shop in stores that feature products from women-, Black-, BIPOC-, LGBTQ+-, veteran-, and other diverse-owned companies. This sentiment skews higher with specialty food consumers and even higher with Gen-Zs. In addition to helping support the owners, carrying these specialty brands can be a gateway to attract young specialty food and non-specialty food consumers.
    • Reach more mature consumers.  Marketing attention often focuses on young consumers, but don’t dismiss older generations. Boomers’ buy-in has been strong during the past two years, for example, and they present an under-tapped opportunity for specialty companies. Emphasizing local and regional products, offering promotions  and  coupons tied to shopping habits or dietary needs, communicating COVID safety measures, and having employees in the store who are knowledgeable about specialty products are just some of the ways to impress and engage this group.
    • Focus on online opportunities. The online grocery consumer landscape shifted in 2021 to bring in many more consumers. More than half (57 percent) of all adults said they’ve bought groceries online in 2021. That’s a 76 percent increase over 2020, or 62 million new online grocery shoppers. And again, the emphasis is on a more mature audience. Gen-Xs upped their online orders significantly during the pandemic, and report that in the past month they still ordered more than they did pre-COVID. Online shopping will remain an important channel, and a massive opportunity for brands.

    You can read more research highlights in the recently released 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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