New Specialty Food Category Research Shows Opportunities for U.S-Grown Rice

What's not to love
Jul 03, 2018
NEW YORK, NY – The specialty food segment of the food and beverage industry is growing by leaps and bounds with 65 percent of all consumers purchasing specialty foods to the tune of some $140.3 billion in 2017 – up 11 percent from 2015.

Specialty foods and beverages – defined as high quality, unique, craft items usually produced in limited quantities – account for just less than 16 percent of the total food and beverage market, but that is expected to grow to 19 percent by 2022.

And rice occupies a sweet spot in the category, both as an ingredient, but also a product itself.  

According to the newly-released comprehensive report, State of the Specialty Food Industry 2018, produced by the Specialty Food Association, Mintel, and SPINS/IRI, the “rice cakes” category grew in value by more than 64 percent from 2015 to 2017.  The only category that outpaced rice cakes was water, growing more than 76 percent.

Rice also makes an appearance in additional growth categories – “refrigerated entrees” that may include rice (27 percent growth) and “wellness bars and gels” that often use rice as an ingredient (23 percent growth).  And specialty plant-based, shelf-stable milk alternatives, of which rice is a part, enjoys the second highest market share of its category at 88 percent.

Additionally, the continued rise in consumer interest in gluten free foods – a hallmark of the specialty food market – is also fueling rice consumption with rice flour as a common substitute for wheat flour.  However, the gluten free flour market is widening, and product manufacturers are utilizing other substitutes like white bean flour, coconut flour, almond flour, and others.

The new research, that was distributed at the annual Summer Fancy Foods Show here this weekend, also took a deep dive into consumer habits, trends, and desires, and again rice is well positioned.  

Great swaths of consumers are looking for foods with a health halo, that are sustainably produced, and with a local connection, that they want to know about.

“My take-away from the Specialty Foods Association research is that U.S.-grown rice has an opportunity to stake out some significant territory in this large and growing market,” said Michael Klein, USA Rice vice president of domestic promotion.  “But to solidify our position, we need to actively reach out to the specialty food innovators and explain the value U.S.-grown rice can bring to the table.  We are second-to-none with regard to sustainability, we are locally grown, always by small family businesses, GMO-free, nutritious, and as versatile a grain as there can be.  What’s not to love?”