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Sneak Peek at the Specialty Food Market of Tomorrow: Trends and Forecasts to Prepare for Today

At the Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show, Hartman Group SVP, Shelley Balanko, shared insights into what’s driving consumer demand for today’s — and tomorrow’s — specialty foods and beverages.

Summer fancy food show 2017 “Specialty is no longer reserved for special occasions, and specialty food and beverages are of interest across a multitude of everyday food and beverage categories,” said Hartman Group SVP, Shelley Balanko, at the Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show held this past June 25-27 in New York.

What’s special about today’s specialty food marketplace? In her presentation, Balanko shared unique perspectives on:

  • The “new specialty”
  • Key consumer targets and need spaces
  • The impact that strong consumer demand for specialty food is having on the retail marketplace
  • What winning in this space requires (hint: new product-quality distinctions and, in many cases, new brands)

The Summer Fancy Food Show is a massive event with culinary delights from the world over, including regional U.S. representation. Within the sea of cheese, olive oil, charcuterie and confectionary, the trends The Hartman Group has long been researching, analyzing and providing consultation around were evident.

“Innovation is all around,” said Balanko. “Innovation in formats was apparent as was innovation in packaging.” This included bite-sized and snackable formats, smaller portions for permissible indulgences, resealable pouches for convenience and customizable kits (meals, burgers, ice cream).

While very much category-specific, Balanko noted that trends have a pervasive, overarching bent toward health and wellness even in this highly indulgent space.

Attention to ingredient sourcing and production practices was a hot topic, and post-presentation questions focused on which product certifications are best to win with consumers in the specialty marketplace. There is strong interest in and concern about e-commerce and its implications for the food and beverage industry. The impending Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods Market was a hot topic of discussion during Q&A.

From heirlooms to specialty produce to hybridsAt the 2017 Summer Fancy Food Show “to celebrate 65 years of shaping the future of food,” the Specialty Food Association debuted a new attraction with the launch of the future-focused, multifaceted LevelUP. The Hartman Group had a prominent presence here as well, with quotes by our Melissa Abbott, VP of Hartman Retainer Services and culinary insights guru, adorning the walls, like the one picture here and this one:

“Diet personalization will drive consumers’ food choices, leading to increased customization of their specialty food buying and consumption.”

“Today’s definition of quality is being transformed by the contemporary consumer,” Balanko said. “The new specialty, trading up on everyday occasions, is fast becoming the norm in modern food culture.”

Traits of the new specialty include:

  • Chef as arbiter of taste
  • Open production
  • Imperfectly perfect
  • Pride in craftsmanship

What does the future look like for the specialty food marketplace? Among the implications Balanko shared: “Healthy, convenient dietary modifications (snacks and beverages) will drive the fastest packaged specialty growth and the bulk of premium packaged retail revenue for the foreseeable future.”

Additional Resources on Winning in the Specialty Food and Beverage Marketplace:

Hartman Trend iD

Innovation Workshop

Hartman Eating Occasions Compass

Email Shelley:


Food & Beverage Occasions Consumer Package Goods Health & Wellness Organic/Natural Trends Foodservice/Restaurant


As leaders in the study of American food culture, The Hartman Group has been tracking how Americans shop for food since the 1990s. From one-stop shopping to multichannel shopping to online markets and click-and-collect, we continue to track consumers’ evolving perceptions, needs, habits and relationships with food retailers. New to the 2017 report is a special section on the expansion of the discount grocery channel, the emerging fresh-format channel and smaller-footprint retail formats.


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