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  1. Each year as part of the State of the Specialty Food Industry research, we track and forecast sales performance of key categories over 10 years. As part of this work, our research team, David Lockwood and David Browne, analyzes what’s happening innovation-wise at the shelf-, brand-, and item-level through a combination of trend research online, as well as in-person experiences at Winter and Summer Fancy Food Shows, and store visits at specialty retailers. Several of the most prominent innovation trends in 2022 include: Diverse-owned brands in the spotlight. Much as specialty consumers have gained affinity for local/regional brands where they shop for food and beverages, many now have an ethical/moral interest in another subset of products; women-, BIPOC-, and/or LGBTQ+- owned brands. Some retailers identify relevant brands in featured sets or with shelf signage and build promotions around key months in the year that celebrate these groups. Brands can obtain certifications, which may help to entice label-reading shoppers. It’s too early to tell if there are certain food and beverage categories where these brands compete more commonly. Instead, it’s apparent that an attentive shopper will often have a choice at the shelf. It’s also unclear if a consumer will prioritize brand ownership over other characteristics such as organic, non-GMO, etc, if given limited options. Convenience after COVID. As we come out of COVID, or at least have migrated into later phases of the virus, it’s apparent that consumers are tired of all the at-home meal preparation. While they honed their cooking and baking skills in 2020, and branched out and experimented in 2021, they entered 2022 fatigued and craving convenience. This takes many forms: Ready-to-eat (RTE), heat-and-eat, ready-to-drink (RTD) innovations have helped grow categories including Beans, grains, rice, dry (Shelf stable); Entrées (Refrigerated); Entrées, lunch, dinner (Frozen); and Tea and coffee, RTD (Refrigerated). Even as boxed mac-and-cheese slowed in 2021, Pasta (Shel stable) and Sauces, pasta, pizza (Shelf stable) both continued to perform well into early 2022, not only due to rising food prices that make these categories stay appealing, but also simple convenience. Kitchen shortcuts in the Baking mixes, ingredients, flours category that only require water or oil, readily available with any diet or allergy in mind. At the same time, growth in mature specialty categories like Cheese and plant-based cheese came from shredded/sliced subcategories. Deli meat correspondingly did well, too. Improved home-brewed tea and coffee via Creams and creamers (Refrigerated). An ever-increasing array of flavors, functional additives (e.g., mushrooms, healthy fats, vitamins), and bases (dairy or plant-based) give consumers many options to enhance their tea/coffee. The return of indulgence. It never really went away, except perhaps when it took a back seat during the earliest phases of COVID panic buying, but consumers are increasingly enjoying sweet and savory snack categories, even as inflation drives food prices higher. A quick look at some of the best performing categories in early 2022 includes Chips, pretzels, snacks; Chocolate and other confectionery; Cookies and snack bars; and Desserts (Frozen), and we’re seeing indulgence run through many categories both in ingredient profile and marketing messaging. Upcycling and food waste solutions. Brands like Renewal Mill, Fabalish, and The Spare Co. are just the tip of the iceberg. They’re partnering in some cases with widely-known brands, too, which should help more consumers get exposed to this segment. Retailers including Misfits Market focus their entire business model on food waste solutions, too, and “upcycled” shopping is fairly easy on a site such as HiveBrands.com. You can view innovation and flavor trends in each of the 37 categories forecasted by purchasing the full State of the Specialty Food Industry report, 2022-2023 Edition. SFA members receive discounted pricing.
  2. The specialty food market has prospered amid two difficult years. According to SFA’s newly released State of the Specialty Food Industry research, the market hit $175 billion in retail, foodservice, and ecommerce sales is 2021 and continues to grow at a faster rate than all food. Growth will continue but at a much slower pace than the industry experienced in the 2020 stay-at-home whirlwind of grocery shopping and at-home meal preparation. The market faces well-known challenges due to inflation’s role in pushing food prices, supply chain difficulties, fuel cost increases, packaging shortages, and shipping issues. Growth over the next few years depends heavily on shifts in these challenges and supply chain bandwidth. In the Summer issue of Specialty Food magazine, you can discover the highlights from this year’s research, such as sales and forecasts in key segments, fastest-growing categories and subcategories, and COVID’s impact on category sales. In addition to a deeper dive into all this data, the full 112-page research— available for purchase in the specialtyfood.com Learning Center—also details key trends driving opportunities and decision-making in the market. Here is a preview of some: Home cooking and baking slows as COVID subsides. As COVID took hold in 2020, consumers returned to kitchens in full force. Up until then, consumer food spending had been pretty evenly split between groceries versus at restaurants, but tilted heavily back on groceries almost overnight, with specialty benefitting from the shift. Fast-forward through 2021 and dollar sales growth in various cooking/baking categories has taken a turn, giving back much of the 2020 COVID gains. But unit sales through April 2022 are strengthening, suggesting that home cooking/ baking will remain a long-term trend but not nearly as strong as the pandemic-influenced phenomenon. Collaboration carries the industry forward. Supply chain challenges necessitated long overdue SKU rationalization, not only among makers who have pared down production to essential products, but also retailers who are more cautious than ever about bringing in new products. The impetus is on makers to innovate with far more thought, R&D, and investment. Innovation centers, incubators, and culinary kitchens are ramping up efforts to help producers design, package, and create products that will make their way into specialty retail. BIPOC- and women-owned brands in the spotlight. Consumer desire for brands from Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC)- and women-owned companies is skyrocketing. According to the State of the Industry’s companion research, Today’s Specialty Food Consumer, published in September 2021, 17 percent of specialty food consumers say they buy specialty food “to support diverse suppliers (e.g., women-, Black-, BIPOC-, LGBTQ+-, veteran-, disabled- owned companies).” Meanwhile, 22 percent of SFCs said they prefer to shop in stores that feature these types of brands/products. Increasingly incubators, distributors, and brokers are specializing in supporting diverse-owned brands. Retailer and foodservice operators are also seeking out a broader diversity of brands. Target launched its Racial Equity and Change program with plans to spend $2 billion+ with Black-owned businesses by 2025. Pop Up Grocer featured a Washington, DC spot to highlight brands that are women-owned, BIPOC- and queer-owned, and/or local. Many specialty retailers, such as PCC Natural Markets, are retooling their mission to address Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, which is translating to product assortment in stores. To learn more about The State of the Specialty Food Industry + 10-Year Category Tracking and Forecasts, 2022-2023 Edition, look for upcoming information about our webinar on July 21.
  3. Plant-based, brain health, stress support, and foods from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) makers are among the trends seen by the supply chain in this year’s State of the Specialty Food Industry report. Here is some of what they had to say: “Some of the macro trends that we’ve seen with COVID are going to last. Indulgence, taste exploration, restaurant quality, and having our type of item for retailers is a way to [show consumers that they] have the option for [them] to stay here. For a meeting I had with Target [recently], indulgence was something that they focused on. In August it was SKU rationalization, now it’s ‘we need to play on indulgence. Better-for-you is important but we do want to cater more to like something that’s delicious and indulgent.’” -head of sales at a specialty dessert brand “Probably six months to a year ago it was all about why categories, brands, and products are relevant during COVID, and now it’s [buyers saying] ‘show that its relevant with COVID, but show that it’s relevant beyond COVID, and if you need to adjust the product, be ready to address it.’ It’s kind of the horizon of the next 12-18 months, what those big categories and trends are, and how they’re going to surface, and how are customers going to adjust back to eating more away from home. Are they going to change their eating habits? How sensitive or not will they be to promotions, because obviously you didn’t have to promote a lot [during the height of COVID] and products would sell.” -head of sales for a specialty food maker “I’m hyper-focused on trying to figure out how the workplace, the office space, is going to function. We had a large B2B business selling to local firms, feeding their staff and that evaporated overnight. All of our events business evaporated overnight also, and I firmly believe that the quality of our food is going to get us back into the door when people step back in. I’m just trying to think of ways to improve upon the experience and improve upon the flexibility that they have with the experience, and the safety around it, so that we’re top of mind for them when they do return.” -founder, owner of a multi-store specialty food retailer and foodservice operator “What I’m seeing through sales is a lot of interest in exploring flavors, and in plant-based. We do a lot of cheese in the northwest U.S., and our marketing person in that area recently held up a plant-based cheese and said, ‘I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it tastes great.’ Also, the impact of cooking at home is evident in our numbers. The traditional categories of baking and grains and all related scratch cooking areas.” -VP vendor relations at a specialty distributor “When people are excited about doing the actual cooking, then they get excited about the quality of the ingredient that they’re using, and that’s the defining factor. That’s what is differentiating the products that we sell. Why go to [our stores] and not go to [big supermarket chains]? These are the reasons. We tell people how to actually make a Roman pizza dough and talk them through it. And those people can take those experiences home and share them with their children, the rest of their family, and that’s what people want.” -owner of a multi-store specialty food retailer “The majority of [my clients] who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) founders are so proud and really leaning into it, rightfully so, and seeing good responses from retailers. We’re seeing more of a call for diversity from all across the supply chain. They’re essentially sending BIPOC and female founders to the front. And then the other side is that I have founders who are hesitant to do that. They’re in more conservative areas of the country … and they question if the retailers and consumers would respond to [BIPOC founders announcing themselves.]” -owner, founder of a specialty brand consultancy “Natural and specialty products will continue to gain share because of trends related to active lifestyle, stress support, brain health, gut health, and how to use food as medicine. Conventional retailers will continue to offer up space for those products. Brain health and stress support will emerge as strong categories, including things that feed into those like mood, sleep, and immunity. Other strong drivers are healthy fats, alternative sweeteners, and the Keto lifestyle—if not Keto specifically then the three factors behind it: low carb, low sugar, and healthy fat. While family meals will continue, I do think people are getting worn out from scratch cooking, so baking sales have subsided slightly. Frozen or simmer sauces that can make at-home cooking easier will also continue to do well.” -SVP, category management and growth solutions for a specialty distributor “Private labels are continually being added by the retailers whom we work with and that volume continues to grow. I’m a big believer in private labels, both conventional and specialty food.” -VP vendor relations at a specialty distributor “Meat, produce, and baking items all continue to trend year-over-year at a higher rate than we would have normally expected. We’ve also seen an increase in our prepared foods. Not in our full-service deli prepared foods, but all the packaged foods, probably for the convenience of being grab-and-go versus having to wait, and maybe just the allure of it being packaged and being safer than something that’s on a platter and open.” -founder, owner of a multi-store specialty food retailer and foodservice operator 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 are the pandemic-influenced consumer and food trends in our discussion in the Community Hub.
  4. From online shopping, to the reinvigoration of stalled categories, to in-store changes that may be here to stay, the specialty food supply chain offered insights into the pandemic’s influence on consumer behavior. Here is some of what they had to say, excerpted from the recently released State of the Specialty Food Industry report, 2021-2022 edition. “Home cooking trends that will stick include baking, pastas, grains, beans, and snacks. Online grocery shopping will continue growing because of the convenience factor of not having to spend an hour or three hours getting to and from the grocery store. And even if you are going to the store to get produce and dairy, you’ll supplement with online.” -chief merchandising officer of a specialty ecommerce retailer “All that difficulty that we saw during the initial impact had less to do with a trade-down mentality, or a size-up mentality and more to do with just ‘what can I get?’ So, we saw a lot of consumers just buying whatever they could find on the shelf, and thankfully our supply team did a lot of amazing work quickly changing procedures to be able to keep up largely with demand, which allowed us to be that sort of regular option on shelf for people to choose.” -regional sales manager at a specialty dairy brand “The one thing that changed drastically from the start of COVID was that people didn’t want any prepared foods. They didn’t want to eat anything that we touched. In the beginning, that was our one weak link. But they bought fruits and vegetables like crazy, which of course we had to put on the shelf. The prepared foods business has already come back very strongly. That business is now much bigger than it was originally because of the new customers that we’ve picked up.” -CEO of a specialty retail and foodservice outlet “Once you’re in the store there’s a relationship there, and that relationship is one where people have enough confidence and trust that they are willing to spend the time and energy in continuing to nurture it. That was the beautiful part of what happened this year.” -founder, owner of a multi-store specialty food retailer and foodservice operator “[Early on], people wanted more guidance on how to cook [meat] cuts that they weren’t familiar with that they might have experienced in a restaurant. We saw items like scallops increase in sales. We saw finer cuts of meat increasing in sales. Items that need a little bit more finesse. Caviar sales increased. People still wanted to experience those little pleasures that they would get when they would go out and then found ways to find that pleasure at home. It was cool to see how people adapted. They were still trying to find joy in the day-to-day.” -founder, owner of a multi-store specialty food retailer and foodservice operator “A lot of people are acting under the assumption that the world has changed permanently, but I’m more of the view that most people are going to be anxious to get back to life as it was. Yet, some of our businesses, like coffee shops, might not come back.” -CEO of a specialty retail and foodservice group “There were a couple of changes that we made back in September to some of the flow in the retail store. We took on an extra space to allow for curbside pickup and the addition of outside seating. Our whole mentality is ‘eat, shop, learn,’ so we have a bar in there where you can eat great foods. Our cheese and charcuterie selection, and the wines and beers are from small artisanal producers around the world, and we have to tell their stories. We’re highlighting special producers like that. People weren’t spending in the beginning to discover new products, but by September or October I think they were feeling like ‘we’re stuck in the house too long, and we should treat ourselves,’ and so the economy started to change a little bit in our retail.” -owner of a multi-store specialty food retailer “We made small changes to the retail flow of the new store because it’s about playing to the customers’ new behaviors; making it easier for them, making their experience still great, because shopping [at our stores] is an experience and that’s what we need to and want to deliver on. People don’t just come in and say, ‘Oh, I know that olive oil, let me buy it.’” -owner of a multi-store specialty food retailer “[Because of] the pandemic, we have such a mix of consumers now. We were the only store open during the [height of the] pandemic within our block radius for hot coffee. So now we’re getting the MTA bus drivers, were getting the incredible blue-collar workers, and the construction workers that were still working that didn’t have hot coffee. But [guests] are also discovering new things, and since we make sure we’re properly pricing things, they’re able to try different things. So, we’re curating based on this, too, thinking that average person wants to spend $5-7 or less.” -founder of a specialty c-store concept “The things you read about in the trend charts: its maximizing value, its comfort foods. Shockingly, though, it’s not hitting the high end [adversely] the way we thought it would. [Shoppers are] willing to spend on quality goods but they’re budgeting more, so when they do it, it might be an in-between treat or it’s really something special.” -national sales director at a specialty importer and distributor “We brought in essentials for guests. We wound up selling a whole lot more eggs, milk, butter, beans, and things like that. They’re back to cooking and they’re buying canned tomatoes, yeast, and flour. We used to sell a lot of it, and then we didn’t, and now everybody’s making pizza and bread at home, so we had to buy flour by the pallets, and we used to buy it by the cases. So, that’s the switch. We’re still selling a whole lot of those ingredients. Fresh meat and seafood is blowing up like crazy. Deli went wild. Sandwiches, bread, outrageous. So, we took on more local bread bakers.” -owner of a multi-store specialty food 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 are the pandemic-influenced consumer trends in our discussion in the Community Hub.
  5. Denise Purcell

    5 New Norms

    Where do we go from here is the question on everyone’s mind as we start to approach the post-pandemic new normal. That same question is integrated into this year’s newly released SFA State of the Specialty Food Industry research. As you can see in report highlights we published in the summer issue of Specialty Food magazine, food sales fared well in a year of stay-at-home mandates. Brick-and-mortar and online grocery sales boomed across the board, more than offsetting foodservice’s unfortunate plummet as restaurants limited seated dining or closed for good. How these new norms will shake out is still unknown but based on the research and supply chain interviews, here are five shifts we expect to stay in place. Cooking-at-home habits. The research indicates that most people who gave extra home food preparation a serious try in the past year have created some lasting habits, at least for a few specific tasks. Whether it’s baking bread, making from-scratch soup, or using the slow cooker, home cooking will remain prevalent to a higher degree than it would have without the pandemic. New foodservice business models. Supply chain interviews show foodservice operators are planning new business models that include commissaries or partnerships, outdoor dining, new recipes/menus, and delivery as part of the segment’s comeback. Increased takeout and delivery, especially, will remain elevated, in part because older adults and those with young children may be slower to return to on-premise dining and partly because many consumers now more regularly incorporate some takeout dishes into their at-home meals. Better ecommerce opportunities for small brands. Several industry conversations centered around improved ways to discover new products online. Retailers and makers are both looking for ways to showcase on-trend and new products in a way that is enjoyable for shoppers to browse, including reliable ways to surface local and regional products, and increase visibility for brands that support social, economic, and environmental justice causes, areas of high consumer interest. Virtual sales meetings between retail buyers and makers. From what we have learned, both parties believe that the new style of meeting will be the norm going forward, though some in-person meetings will resume. Makers tell us that meetings are more efficient, and while there is less time to talk about multiple SKUs, there is a higher success with a maker’s leading SKU. Tighter SKU management. The one thing that major retailers want from specialty manufacturers is “your very best product.” Total SKUs have been reduced as the pandemic uncovered supply chain weakness, and 2020 results suggest that scaling back on SKUs did not harm sales. Most of the reductions have come from “me too” brands and under-performing line extensions. The new challenge for makers is how to successfully get to market all their SKUs that aren’t number-one. If a brand’s best product does well, a targeted new product that attracts many of the same users might get strong consideration. 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.
  6. In the recently released State of the Specialty Food Industry research, we interviewed members of the supply chain about COVID’s ongoing impact. Among shifts they are seeing in consumer behavior and food trends are things like home cooking continuing, prepared foods growth, plant-based, and values-based shopping especially for products made by Black, female, or other diverse founders. What pandemic-influenced trends are you seeing in your business?
  7. “People who are saying restaurants are dead and everyone is going to cook at home are giving consumers way too much credit.” I second that quote from a member of our SFA Trendspotter Panel, Jonathan Deutsch of Drexel University, speaking at our recent webinar, Trends from Specialty Food LIVE!, our digital marketplace event held in January. Pre-COVID, aka the Before Time, dining out socially was a way of life for many—from grabbing quick fast-casual lunches to dinners out a few times a week. And after a year of hunkering down at home, many are eager to emerge from their bubbles, ready to enjoy. As vaccine rollouts increase and indoor dining restrictions become more lenient, recovery predictions are rolling in. A recent story in Bloomberg, Bars and Restaurants Are About to Go on an Epic Post-COVID Hiring Spree, quoted foodservice operators across the U.S. heartened by a noticeable uptick in business as weather warmed up, and the pandemic showed signs of receding. According to Labor Department data, bars and restaurants added almost 300,000 jobs across the country in February, the first substantial increase in four months. High hopes aside, the pace of foodservice’s return is still dependent on a number of variables influencing consumers’ comfort levels. In our spring issue of Specialty Food magazine, we look at Foodservice in Crisis: How the Channel Can Recover. There is no question that foodservice has been devastated. More than 110,000 restaurants—about 17 percent of all locations—are gone, according to National Restaurant Association data. Some segments, especially small immigrant-owned mom-and-pop restaurants, were severely hit, as you can read about in the issue. Hope to prevent more closings has come in the form of the recently passed Restaurant Revitalization Fund, part of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan. But clearly, recovery is going to take years for the channel to return to pre-COVID sales. While in survival mode this past year, some of the new avenues of business operators turned to are expected to continue as key to recovery, including: • Ghost kitchens. Consumers have gotten used to and comfortable with restaurant quality food at home and it will remain part of their dining habits even as they begin to branch outside more. With ghost or dark kitchens, restaurants can operate for delivery without incurring high overhead costs. • Off-premise dining. Delivery was rising even before the pandemic and is certainly part of the norm now. Many operators plan to make this a priority and ongoing investment. • Specialty retail products. Several restaurants and food trucks began packaging their proprietary sauces and condiments, making them available for sale via e-commerce or in brick-and-mortar retail. You can read more about the trends and changes that are going to help pave foodservice’s way back in the spring issue. Like many things post-COVID, all signs point to a comeback shaped by a new normal.
  8. Specialty Food Live!, the SFA’s first virtual marketplace event, took place Sept. 21 - 25, with hundreds of buyers exploring thousands of products in SFA’s maker members’ showrooms. The event was originally slated for four days, but the exhibit portion was extended to five at the request of participants. In addition to the exhibits, the event included virtual tastings and education panels. Here are some food and category trend takeaways from the sessions. The trend lifecycle. Trends can be mapped from inception, to adoption, to proliferation, to ubiquity, explained Mark Brandau and Carly Levin from Datassential. Kale is a good example. At inception, it’s a really early-stage trend that “consumers may be a little scared of,” said Brandau, and is found mostly at fine dining restaurants, specialty retailers, or farmers markets. Next comes the adoption stage. “This is when your obnoxious foodie friend says, ‘oh my gosh, you have to try this!’” Such foods can be found at gastropubs, fast-casual operators, and retailers such as Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. “When a trend hits proliferation, and this is where kale is right now, you’ll start to find it in chains since it’s been adapted for mass consumption,” said Levin. “But the difference between proliferation and ubiquity, the last stage, is that in proliferation you can’t expect to pull a random stranger off the street who knows what it is, but in ubiquity you can.” Such foods can be found at family restaurants, K-12 foodservice, drug stores, and dollar stores. Read more. Center store is center stage. “It’s the year of essentials,” said David Lockwood of Mintel, referring to an array of categories meant for at-home consumption and meal preparation. According to Lockwood, their gains contributed to the overall growth of specialty food this year. The segment totaled $29 billion in 2019 sales, comprising 41 percent of the total brick-and-mortar specialty market. The COVID-19 boost was undeniable for essentials, in particular baking mixes, frozen entrees, oils, vinegars, and sauces as consumers faced stay-at-home mandates and turned to cooking and baking. Mintel predicts the growth rate for sales of food at home in 2021 will be roughly twice what it would have been without the pandemic. Read more. Immunity-boosting foods are on the rise. COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on food as medicine, with functional food and beverages that deliver immunity and mental well-being benefits being most relevant, said Shelley Balanko of The Hartman Group. “Consumers have focused on immunity, such as the link between healthy digestion and reducing overall systemic inflammation in the body,” she said. “They are thinking more about high-quality sleep and effective stress-management techniques.” Many have been trying to eat and drink more immune-supporting ingredients such as vitamin C in citrus, green tea, garlic, turmeric, and ginger. More experimental and trend-forward consumers are trying things like prebiotic fiber from resistant starches, adaptogens, and medicinal mushrooms. Read more. CBD opportunity. Tied with the rise in functional foods and beverages, customers are increasingly seeking CBD as an ingredient. Food or beverage products that aim to fill a need state (like boosted immunity or sleep enhancement) are becoming increasingly popular among consumers. Before deciding to add CBD to a food or beverage product, experts advise makers to take the time to understand the regulatory repercussions and the trends of the category. Read more. Global and regional American “travel” through food. With consumers sticking closer to home, global flavors are of strong interest. Scandinavian or Nordic cuisine has been on the radar, said Melanie Bartelme of Mintel, one of the SFA Trendspotters at Specialty Food Live!, who noted ingredients at the event including sea buckthorn and birch crystals. Cambodian chile pastes and fonio, an ancient grain from Senegal, were other global flavors noted by the Trendspotters. “There is an effort to preserve culture through food and have that taste at home,” noted V. Sheree Williams of Cuisine Noir Magazine, a member of the Trendspotter panel. The trend extends to regional American as well, said Bartelme. The concept of road trips and discovering what’s here in your backyard is increasingly appealing in the wake of COVID-19. Read more. Integrating plant-based. “The COVID-19 pandemic has acted as a catalyst to accelerate the shift from consumer demand of animal-based products to plant-based ones,” said Jans Tuider of ProVeg, who shared best practices for plant-based food makers, including categorizing plant-based products based on usage, not ingredients. ProVeg believes that the store of the future will shift towards a “protein aisle” rather than a specific aisle for meat and a separate one for plant-based offerings. Read more. Recordings of the Specialty Food Live! sessions will be available at learning.specialtyfood.com within the next month.
  9. The Specialty Food Association is continuing both its Ask the Experts and Rise to the COVID-19 challenge webinar series as the pandemic continues to impact the specialty food industry. Webinars are held weekly with recorded versions available for download in the specialtyfood.com Learning Center. Webinars are free for SFA members and $19 for non-members. Here are highlights from some of the latest webinars: Foodservice can be a profitable channel for specialty food makers and the current state of the U.S. market has opened up new opportunities. In Breaking into Specialty Gourmet Foodservice, Arn Grashoff of Innovative Food Holdings, talked about the best products and formats for foodservice and how to get visibility and distribution. C-stores are a hot channel for specialty products, with particular appeal for consumers in the 18–23-year-old range. Max Weiner, Burdette Beckmann Inc., has sold premium products into convenience for more than 20 years. In Selling to Convenience Stores, Weiner provided tips and insights into the best products for C-stores, and how to make the channel work for your business. While CBD for edible products is not legal in the U.S., many companies are developing hemp-based products in anticipation of possible clearance by the FDA. In CBD in Food and Beverage: Trends and Innovation, Kay Tamillow, research director at Brightfield Group, provided insight into new product developments in the CBD and cannabis markets. Selling to supermarkets is a big step, and Art Papazian of ACP Management & Consulting Co. has spent his career guiding businesses through the process. In his session, Papazian discussed the importance of research, planning, and making the right connections. He also covered review schedules, forms, and budgeting. Max Kaniger, founder of Kanbe’s Markets, is Fixing the Food System, One Corner Store at a Time. Issues with hunger, food waste, and availability have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kaniger discussed how his organization is working to bring food to communities while sharing revenue with small businesses, and how grocers and makers can help solve the issues we’re all facing right now.
  10. The continuing coronavirus pandemic keeping record number of people close to home, growing social awareness affecting purchasing decisions, and a maturing Gen Z population, are driving the food trends that will dominate in the new year, says the Specialty Food Association Trendspotter panel. This group of retailers, chefs, food writers and educators, and market analysts, has weighed in on the top trends for the next 12 months. Here's some of what you can expect to see: Eating/Cooking at Home. The reality of at-home meal preparation and consumption will stay with us in 2021, but has also brought about several subtrends. "At-home eating will be the name of the game in 2021,” says Melanie Zanoza Bartelme, global food analyst at Mintel and member of the Trendspotter Panel. “We will see consumers looking to brighten and enliven the monotony of preparing so many meals in a row." Restaurant Food in the Home Kitchen. With economic concerns not easing and the potential for more lockdowns during the upcoming winter, consumers are looking to replicate restaurant experiences in the home kitchen. We’ll see more restaurant-quality condiments, cooking sauces, and cocktail mixes, say the Trendspotters. Examples include smoked watermelon salt for use on fruits and vegetables; a sauce that combined the seven toppings of the classic Chicago Hot Dog into one condiment; sliced Calabrian chiles; and cocktail mixes like a smoked maple old-fashioned syrup for at-home bartending. Twists on Classics. Reimagining traditional recipes and products will keep consumers from becoming bored with their meals and snacks in the coming year. Examples include products like vodka and tomato ketchup, a twist on vodka sauce; aged cheddar granola; everything bagel broccoli bites; sheep’s milk chocolate; mint-flavored pasta; and beetroot-flavored drinking chocolate powder. Eatertainment. The events of 2020 left no one unscathed. “These are serious times and with some areas still experiencing closures in theaters, stadiums, concert halls, and other entertainment venues, we are looking to have fun at home,” says Trendspotter Jonathan Deutsch of The Drexel Food Lab at Drexel University. Novelty products are bringing some whimsy and entertainment to the home kitchen. Trendspotters point to maple syrup with edible glitter; pretzel bread mix; a unicorn s'mores skillet kit; hot chocolate on a stick; edible spoons in sweet and savory flavors; and reusable lunch box packaging with llamas and unicorns. Values-Based Buying. Consumers are becoming more conscious shoppers when choosing which brands to support with their food dollars. They are seeking out companies owned by women, Black people, people of color, B Corps, sustainability-focused brands, and those with ethical labor practices. "For me, 2020 highlighted topics amongst all brands: cultural appropriation, community impact, ethical practices. More than ever, brands are focused on these three categories and trying to align their messaging with this,” says Chef Tu David Phu, a Trendspotter Panel member. “Movements like #metoo and #blacklivesmatter have empowered consumers to voice their opinions on what they expect from their favorite brands. This pivot/shift is mainly due to Generation Z coming into the consumer marketplace as adults. Food brands need to shift now as this new demographic is taking over the marketplace." Global Travels at Home. With consumers sticking closer to home, global flavors offer culinary adventure in lieu of traveling, especially from less-familiar countries and regions. "I'm seeing more prominence and appreciation of regional ingredients from parts of the world often overlooked—specifically, an interest in West African ingredients and cuisine,” says Dawn Padmore, vice president of culinary marketing and events, Karlitz and Company. Products and flavors from Scandinavia, Cambodia, and Senegal are trending with ingredients like sea buckthorn; Cambodian chile pastes; fonio, an ancient grain from Senegal that continues to gain attention; Caribbean and Latin-American flavored pre-made beans; and spices that focus specifically on herbs or plants native to regions such as West Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. Functional Ingredients. The pandemic also has put health concerns front and center and they will seek functional ingredients and benefits in their foods and beverages. Products that boost immunity and manage stress will particularly be in demand. Examples include functional ghees to promote women’s health, restful sleep, and cardiovascular health; fermented honey sauce; and prebiotic-laced snacks for digestive health with reported immunity-boosting functionality. “These have been huge for years, the difference is the hot functional ingredients change every couple of years. Right now mushroom powders (reishii, lions mane, etc.) are still rising, turmeric is already mainstream (golden lattes), CBD is huge—and deserves its own category,” says Andrew Freeman, founder of af&co./co-founder of Carbonate. Plant-Based Continuing Revolution. More a movement than a trend, plant-based earns a spot on this year’s list for its burgeoning growth during COVID-19 and for new formats that continue to transform the food and beverage market. During surge shopping in the spring, plant-based enjoyed a boost in most categories, especially milk and other dairy and meat alternatives. According to the SFA’s State of the Specialty Food Industry report, 2020-2021 Edition, the segment has huge runway for growth, increasing 10-20 percent annually through 2024. New products and applications include meatless mixes for at-home cooking; dairy-free queso made with aquafaba; cashew cheesy sauce; plant-based tzatziki; oat milk chocolate; and cactus-based tortilla chips. Trendspotter Chris Styler, culinary producer/product development chef and head of Freelance Food, LLC, also observes trends in “the rebranding of foods as 'plant-based' including beverages; more options for plant-based foods including plant-based protein to use for chili, soups, tomato sauce.” Less Sugar and Natural Sugar. Tied to attention to health, consumers are counterbalancing their desires to treat themselves with products that offer low sugar or natural sugar, or sugar alternatives. “We will continue to see a decline in the levels of sugar in foods and drinks and an increase in the availability and popularity of alternative sweeteners like monk fruit, keto-friendly sugars and coconut sugar,” says Clara Park, corporate chef of Culinary Innovation for Chelten House Products. Trendspotters noted hot sauces sweetened with peaches; jams that relied on natural sugars from carrots and jaggery, a cane sugar consumed in Asia; traditional Carolina BBQ sauce in a sugar-free variety; and a proliferation of sauces sweetened with dates. Halva. Following consumers’ growing interest over the past few years in tahini sauce, then black sesame flavoring ice creams and lattes, halva is re-emerging in the spotlight. This 3000-year-old, sesame seed-based Middle Eastern confection was touted in 2020 by Ruth Reichl as good-for-you candy, thanks to its abundance of iron. Product examples include halva butter made from sesame paste to spread on toast, crackers, or in ice cream, and shelf-stable halva slices in flavors like toasted coconut and triple chocolate. Naturally vegan, halva also has plant-based appeal. Read more and see a full list of the 2020 SFA Trendspotters. Download a recording of a recent webinar on the 2021 Trends.
  11. The Specialty Food Association is continuing both its Ask the Experts and Rise to the COVID-19 challenge webinar series as the pandemic continues to impact the specialty food industry. Webinars are held weekly with recorded versions available for download in the specialtyfood.com Learning Center. Webinars are free for SFA members and $19 for non-members. Here are highlights from some of the latest webinars: The continuing coronavirus pandemic keeping record number of people close to home, growing social awareness affecting purchasing decisions, and a maturing Gen Z population, are driving the food trends that will dominate in the new year, says the Specialty Food Association Trendspotter panel. In Top Food Trends for 2021, Trendspotters Wendy Robinson, senior buyer, Market Hall Foods, and Clara Park, corporate chef of Culinary Innovations for Chelten House Brands, and Denise Purcell, SFA’s director of content, discussed the top trend predictions for 2021. Consistently delicious products create brand loyalty. In Own Your Flavor Profile: Get the Specs Straight, product quality expert Nancy Jo Seaton explained the importance of clear product specifications to guarantee consistent quality. This webinar also highlighted the importance of holistic descriptions and clear communication with co-manufacturers. With the massive growth of DTC and Amazon combined with the growth of click and collect and delivery on the retail side of our business, you need to figure out your digital spend. How can you efficiently find your consumer when, where, and how they want to buy your product? Steve Gaither, CMO at CA Fortune explained how in Understanding Shoppable Content: DTC, Amazon, Click & Brick, and Brick & Mortar. Building a successful Amazon business can feel like a full-time job. In Keys to Successful Sales on Amazon with Brand Force Digital, former grocery Amazon vendor manager, Clint George of Brand Focus Digital, provided strategies that can help propel an Amazon business to the next level. George shared how to create attractive Amazon listings, use Amazon Advertising to increase your ROAS, and much more. Visit the Learning Center to download these and many other webinars in the series.
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