Thursday, January 17, 2008

Specialty food market continuing to thrive despite bad economic times

By Jennifer Davies
January 16, 2008

Specialty foods such as fine cheeses, exotic teas and expensive chocolates are no longer only for the discerning food snob. Increasingly, these gourmet items are being gobbled up by the masses as well.

At Colorado gourmet tea maker Two Leaves and a Bud, sales are growing at a triple-digit rate. Richard Rosenfeld, founder of the three-year-old company, said people are willing to pay for quality when it comes to food and beverages.

“You can spend $8 for a box of our tea or $6 for a box of ordinary tea,” Rosenfeld said. “The one thing about specialty food is that it's a very affordable luxury.”

While overall food sales increased 4 percent over the past two years, the specialty foods sector has grown 17 percent, according to the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. In 2006, specialty food sales were $38.5 billion – double the level five years earlier.

The growing variety of specialty foods was on display this week at the 33rd Winter Fancy Food Show at the San Diego Convention Center. The show attracted about 1,100 exhibitors from around the world promoting everything from Indian-and Thai-spiced baby food to soy jerky and raw Sicilian almonds.

Ron Tanner, vice president for the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, said the event is one of the biggest it has had – covering about 250,000 square feet of exhibit space.

Still, while the event keeps growing, some exhibitors said they were concerned that the sluggish economy might slow demand for their pricey, gourmet products.

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