Specialty foods remains one of the fastest-growing sectors in the food industry, a report by the Specialty Food Association (SFA) reveals. 
Hitting $140.3 billion last year, total sales in the sector increased 11 percent between 2015 and 2017. Specialty food sales have outpaced all food retail, with 12.9 percent growth versus 1.4 growth. The report attributes the growth to increased consumption of specialty food, as well as product innovation and a wider availability of specialty foods through mass market outlets. 
"The specialty food industry is a business that is constantly evolving," said Phil Kafarakis, SFA president. "Consumers of all ages are embracing specialty foods and making purchases everywhere they happen to be — from convenience stores to big box retailers to online, as well as in traditional gourmet shops and groceries. Foodservice and retailers are relying more and more upon our products. The industry's growth has been building and will continue to maintain momentum for years to come."
Packaged water saw the most growth in the category, with a 76.1 percent increase in sales between 2015 and 2017. Rice cakes and refrigerated tea and coffee followed with 64.1 percent and 63.2 percent growth, respectively. Jerky and meat snacks experienced a 62.1 percent increase in sales over the same period, while shelf-stable creams and creamers saw a 61.7 percent increase.
Sales of specialty products through foodservice increased by 12.8 percent and online sales by 21 percent. Nearly 80 percent of Gen Z, consumers age 18-23, were reported to buy specialty food, the most out of the other age groups. Two-thirds of Millennials said they purchase specialty food, followed by Gen X at 65 percent.