The Fastest-Growing Specialty-Food Categories


Product innovation and a wider availability of specialty foods via mass-market outlets has contributed significantly to the growth of specialty foods and beverages, according to the Specialty Food Association’s annual “State of the Specialty Food Industry” report.

Driven by growing interest from both consumers and retailers, the sector’s total sales surged 11% from 2015 to 2017, reaching $140.3 billion last year, according to the New York-based association.

The share of consumers buying specialty foods by generation shows 79% of Gen Z (ages 18 to 23) having adopted consumption of specialty food items, followed by millennials (ages 24 to 41) with 67%, Gen Xers (ages 42 to 53) with 65%, and baby boomers (54 to 72) at 60%.

Across retail channels, online sales of these varieties grew 20.9% from 2015 to 2017, followed by foodservice (12.8%) and brick-and-mortar stores (10.7%).

Click through to view the top five product categories with the highest dollar growth based on percent change from 2015 to 2017, as well as a new-product example of each.

1. Water

kopu water bottle

Water: 76.1% growth

Example: Kopu is a luxury sparkling water bottled at source in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. It is packaged in sleek, resealable aluminum bottles.

2. Rice cakes

lundberg rice cakes

Rice cakes: 64.1% growth

Example: Committed to producing the finest-quality rice and rice products, Richvale, Calif.-based Lundberg Family Farms has been growing healthy and flavorful rice while respecting and sustaining the earth, according to the company. The third and fourth generations carry on the family heritage by using eco-positive farming methods that produce wholesome, healthful rice, rice cakes, rice chips and risottos.

3. Refrigerated ready-to-drink tea and coffee

chameleon cold brew coffee

Refrigerated ready-to-drink tea and coffee: 63.2% growth

Example: Chameleon Cold-Brew’s ready-to-drink line is now available in Black, Mocha, Vanilla, Mexican and Espresso flavors. The drinks are made through a cold-brewing process starting with a select blend of 100% organic, Arabica coffee beans that are brewed for 16 hours, resulting in a supersmooth cold brew, according to the company.

4. Jerky and meat snacks

fusion jerky

Jerky and meat snacks: 62.1% growth

Example: Fusion Jerky is a healthy artisan jerky that infuses the soft texture of Asian-style jerky with unique American flavors. Made using only U.S.-raised beef, pork, chicken and turkey, Fusion Jerky is a low-fat, gluten-free, high-protein, all-natural and preservative-free snack that’s processed at a state-of-the-art facility in Nebraska, according to the company.

5. Shelf-stable creams and creamers

almond milk creamer

Shelf-stable creams and creamers: 61.7% growth

Example: Califia Farms' Almondmilk Creamers provide coffee with “a cleanse,” according to the company. The coffee enhancers are available in Hazelnut, Irish Cream, Pecan Caramel, Unsweetened and Vanilla flavors.