Specialty Food Trends for 2011

May 9, 2011

In the April edition of Specialty Food magazine, there were some interesting trends noted as emerging in the specialty food industry. Overall buyer confidence has improved, resulting in a 7.4% increase in 2010, which is always good news.

Below are a few of the statistics that I found particularly applicable to A&E Coffee Roastery & Tea.

Functional Beverages are the fastest growing specialty food category. A bit of a wonky industry term, for the rest of us, Functional Beverages include smoothies. At A&E, we offer 100% fruit smoothies made by Dr. Smoothie.

Bill Haugh, CEO of Dr. Smoothie, says, “at Dr. Smoothie, we combine several fruits together to maximize the natural health benefits that include a super-antioxidant vitamin and mineral. Dr. Smoothie 100% crushed fruit smoothies are fortified with vitamins and minerals, have no sugars, no preservatives, are all natural, are fat-free, gluten-free and enriched for your good health. In fact, a 20oz smoothie contains five servings of fruit and meets the FDA requirement for 100% fruit.”

I think that’s quite a bang for your nutritional buck. Not only is Dr. Smoothie packed with goodness, they taste great. I have sampled my fair share of smoothie mixes and blends, including several at last month’s SCAA Event, and NONE come close to the amazing fresh and natural taste of Dr. Smoothie.

Another trend we’re excited about: specialty coffee saw a 25% increase in sales from 2008-2010. That is huge! Looks like we are in the right business! Tea saw a 7.8% increase over the same time period.

We have seen incremental sales increases at A&E over the past two years. Our strategy is to pursue small, manageable growth in order to retain quality and service. We have added our own line of blended teas and have mixed up the selection a bit to keep it interesting, which has helped to boost our tea sales.

Another category that has seen quite a bit of growth is nuts, seeds, dried fruit and trail mixes, with a 26% increase. Long, long ago, we offered hand-bagged trail mix and we think its time has come around again. We are ordering a gluten-free, naturally sweetened trail mix to offer in the cafe. Keep an eye out for it.

Brokers report that “local” and “all-natural” are the two product attributes that influence consumers the most. We have this one in the bag. As the first certified organic coffee roaster in New Hampshire, we have always been focused on the organic aspect of coffee. And, for our café customers, we are certainly local.

Although coffee and tea are not locally grown products, we support other local businesses in our cafe, as well as donating to many local organizations. This month, we made donations to Conservation NH on for sales of our Earth Day Blend in April and to the Red Cross of America for disaster relief in Japan.

The Specialty Foods survey also broke down how different parts of the industry view the current status of key product claims and more importantly, what they think will be key within the next three years. For example, 88 percent of importers say that consumers are really interested in “all-natural” products, and 84 percent say that “organic” is important to consumers. However, within three years, the survey says that “sustainability” will be more important to consumers than either organic or all-natural.

Manufactures, brokers, and retailers all list “local,” “organic,” and “all-natural” as key buying points now, but “sustainable” will lead the pact within three years! This is an exciting trend that indication consumers are becoming more educated and aware. Sustainable merges the environmental, social and economic elements together and is the key to lasting positive impact for coffee farmers and co-ops.

At A&E Coffee Roastery and Tea we believe whole-heartedly that sustainability in our coffees and teas is crucial. We source our products specifically with that in mind. In the cafe, we take steps to reduce our impact whenever possible.

  • We go out of our way to take all our recyclables to the transfer station.
  • Several customers bring in 5 gallon buckets for us to fill with spent coffee grounds so they can add it to their compost.
  • We use paper coffee bags over foil bags whenever possible.
  • For some of our wholesale accounts, we use buckets to deliver the coffee, which are returned and used again.
  • We launched a pilot program for our larger wholesale accounts who get their coffee shipped. Instead of five-pound foil bags, we use 25-pound reusable food-grade plastic bags.
  • Finally, we make a mean pot of coffee, pull excellent espresso drinks, steep beautiful tea, and roast superb bean, all in hopes that our customers will find quality with meaning in everything we do.

What does it mean to be sustainable? In the context of agriculture, it is defined as “capable of being maintained at a steady level without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage.” (Collins English Dictionary)

The University of California Agriculture and Research Program has written quite extensively on the topic. Here is what they have to say about Sustainability:

“Agriculture has changed dramatically, especially since the end of World War II. Food and fiber productivity soared due to new technologies, mechanization, increased chemical use, specialization and government policies that favored maximizing production. These changes allowed fewer farmers with reduced labor demands to produce the majority of the food and fiber in the U.S.

Although these changes have had many positive effects and reduced many risks in farming, there have also been significant costs. Prominent among these are topsoil depletion, groundwater contamination, the decline of family farms, continued neglect of the living and working conditions for farm laborers, increasing costs of production, and the disintegration of economic and social conditions in rural communities.

A growing movement has emerged during the past two decades to question the role of the agricultural establishment in promoting practices that contribute to these social problems. Today this movement for sustainable agriculture is garnering increasing support and acceptance within mainstream agriculture. Not only does sustainable agriculture address many environmental and social concerns, but it offers innovative and economically viable opportunities for growers, laborers, consumers, policymakers and many others in the entire food system.

Sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals–environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. A variety of philosophies, policies and practices have contributed to these goals. People in many different capacities, from farmers to consumers, have shared this vision and contributed to it. Despite the diversity of people and perspectives, the following themes commonly weave through definitions of sustainable agriculture.

Sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Therefore, stewardship of both natural and human resources is of prime importance. Stewardship of human resources includes consideration of social responsibilities such as working and living conditions of laborers, the needs of rural communities, and consumer health and safety both in the present and the future. Stewardship of land and natural resources involves maintaining or enhancing this vital resource base for the long term.

A systems perspective is essential to understanding sustainability. The system is envisioned in its broadest sense, from the individual farm, to the local ecosystem, and to communities affected by this farming system both locally and globally. An emphasis on the system allows a larger and more thorough view of the consequences of farming practices on both human communities and the environment. A systems approach gives us the tools to explore the interconnections between farming and other aspects of our environment.

A systems approach also implies interdisciplinary efforts in research and education. This requires not only the input of researchers from various disciplines, but also farmers, farmworkers, consumers, policymakers and others.

Making the transition to sustainable agriculture is a process. For farmers, the transition to sustainable agriculture normally requires a series of small, realistic steps. Family economics and personal goals influence how fast or how far participants can go in the transition. It is important to realize that each small decision can make a difference and contribute to advancing the entire system further on the “sustainable agriculture continuum.” The key to moving forward is the will to take the next step.

Finally, it is important to point out that reaching toward the goal of sustainable agriculture is the responsibility of all participants in the system, including farmers, laborers, policymakers, researchers, retailers, and consumers. Each group has its own part to play, its own unique contribution to make to strengthen the sustainable agriculture community.”

source: http://www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/concept.htm

We view sustainability through a coffee filter, and come up with the same conclusions. The Speciality Coffee Industry is working on many of these fronts with coffee producers and the countries in which coffee is grown. Ultimately, it is the consumer who is the economic driver and real change maker.

Emeran.

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