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At $3.48 Billion, Coffee Jumps To Second Place In U.S. Specialty Food Sales

Feb 19, 2020
specialty coffee latte

2009 Creative Commons photo by Market Lane Coffee.

Specialty coffee has jumped frozen meats, poultry and seafood to become the second-highest specialty food category in terms of sales, according to a new report from the Specialty Food Association.

U.S. specialty food sales reached a record $109 billion in 2014, the group says in its annual report, which broadly defines specialty foods as “products that have limited distribution and a reputation for high quality.” In the coffee category, the definition includes packaged supermarket whole bean and ground coffees, as well as drinks prepared in cafes.

Grouped with cocoa, specialty coffee represented some $3.48 billion in U.S. sales in 2014, a more than 21 percent increase over the annual sales average in the previous three years. It trails only cheese ($3.7 million) among the 15 specialty food categories the association tracks.

“Consumers are looking for new tastes, foods with fewer and cleaner ingredients, health attributes, and products that are made by companies with values they care about,” SFA’s Ron Tanner said in an analysis of the report. “All of these define specialty food.”

Throughout the specialty food spectrum, foodservice sales — i.e., sales in cafes and restaurants — have represented the highest growth segment, at more than 30 percent since 2012. The 19 percent growth in total specialty food sales compares favorably to the 2 percent growth in total food sales, as reported by SFA.

The group says the word “local” — a tricky word, indeed, in the case of specialty coffee — has become increasingly important to consumers . Says the SFA, “Retailers interviewed for the report said ‘local’ is the most important product claim today, and predict it will remain so in three years.”