WASHINGTON – For the Victory Brewing Co. in Downingtown,Pa.,the economic downturn is a punch line rather than something to be afraid of.
“We used to joke that the only thing that made us nervous was a severe economic downturn. Then we got one,and we did better,” Bill Covaleski,Victory’s brewmaster and president,said.
Covaleski was one of 2,400 exhibitors at the 57th Summer Fancy Food Show here Monday,a three-day gathering of specialty food producers,distributers and retailers on two floors at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Sponsors expected about 18,000 people to attend.
“Americans have come to appreciate flavor,” Covaleski said between handing out samples of his beer. He emphasized that it is part of a wider trend of consumers’ willingness to pay for higher quality items from small producers.
According to the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, the show’s sponsor,retail sales of specialty foods increased 7.4 percent in 2010 over the previous year.
Other producers at the show echoed Covaleski’s statements that American’s tastes and preferences are changing.
“I think they’re seeing the value,” said Siggi Hilmarsson,founder of Icelandic Milk & Skyr Corp. in New York. “You’re getting a lot more bang for your buck.”
Hilmarsson’s company makes Icelandic-style yogurt that’s thicker,less sweet and higher in protein than traditional American yogurt.
He said consumers are becoming more interested in the ingredients in the foods they eat. Hilmarsson,who is originally from Iceland,prides himself on making yogurt that’s healthier than what is found on traditional supermarket shelves.
“It’s actually giving you something,not just fancy packaging,” Hilmarsson said.
During the downturn,producers noticed that consumers were skipping meals out in favor of eating more expensive foods at home.
“It’s an affordable luxury,” said Chris Bowler,founder of Creminelli Fine Meats,an artisanal Italian-style meat producer from Salt Lake City.
“Spending $10 on a piece of meat where they could have bought it for $5 really is not a big deal,” Bowler said.
According to the National Restaurant Association,restaurants sales have declined for the past three years.
Bowler said people are becoming foodies.
“People love showing off their cooking utensils,and they love showing off their ability to cook,” Bowler said. “It has become one of the principal American hobbies right now.”
The growth of specialty foods as a replacement for dinners out at restaurants could slow in the coming years.
According to the NRA’s 2011 Restaurant Industry Forecast,sales are expected to grow by 3.6 percent over 2010 levels.
Despite the increasing competition,the consensus among producers is if they could survive the recession,they can survive increased competition for consumers’ dollars.
Reach reporter Kevin Heim at [email protected] or 202-326-9861
SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.