SAN FRANCISCO — Specialty food, once reserved for celebrations and limited to categories such as chocolate, cheese and charcuterie, has been redefined. Today's consumers seek premium experiences in everyday occasions, driving strong growth of a segment that represents about 9% of the total food and beverage marketplace, said Shelley Balanko, Ph.D., senior vice-president of business development at the Hartman Group.

Shelley Balanko, Ph.D., senior vice-president of business development at the Hartman Group

“From commodities to condiments, consumers are making the choice to trade up, to do something a little bit better, in the interest of having a wonderful experience,” Dr. Balanko said during a presentation at the Specialty Food Association’s Winter Fancy Food Show, held Jan. 21-23 in San Francisco. “Because consumers don’t want transactions with their food and beverage brands anymore; they want inspiration. And they feel like they deserve this on an everyday basis.”

Previously, such distinctions as “prime-cut,” “signature” and “grade A” signaled quality to the consumer, Dr. Balanko said.

“Today’s consumer is redefining quality, and quality today has a lot to do with transparency and authenticity,” she said. “Whether it’s an RXBAR with very few, simple ingredients, or Califia Farms doing tons of innovation in ready-to-drink coffee, or Kite Hill and Beast Burger offering plant-forward options to the consumer, these are the kinds of brands that are changing the meaning of specialty food experiences for the consumer.”

More than 25,000 industry professionals gathered at the Moscone Center for a taste of the latest innovations from 1,400 exhibiting specialty food and beverage companies, including Rhythm Superfoods, Jelly Belly and Arctic Zero.

Click for a slideshow of new products unveiled at Winter Fancy Food.