“It used to be chefs would be in Miami or New York and reminding people of these exotic items. There was a trickle up about it, and before you know it, other places were bringing these items in and they’d appear in retail stores, where people would try and serve these things at home.”
Networks such as the Food Channel are speeding up that process, Macek noted.
“All sorts of chefs are out there, and they have all sorts of avenues for recipes and uses for these specialty items,” he said. “The food world has been exploding with interest, that’s for sure.”
Growth has rendered the specialty category itself with almost a blasé connotation, said Peter Schnebly, chief executive officer of Homestead, Fla.-based Fresh King Inc.
“I think the word ‘specialties’ has almost changed; the word ‘specialty’ is commonplace now,” he said. “There’s more planting, so there’s more product available.”
Mark Vertrees, marketing director with Miami-based M&M Farms Inc., agreed.
“We really don’t think of them as specialties,” he said. “For our Hispanic demographics, for the most part, those specialties are mainstream items.”
Retail has shown the most dramatic growth in the specialty category, Vertrees said.
“As the Hispanic demographic has gotten larger and larger and more diverse, these products have found their way to retail, and there are a lot of sub-demographics in the Hispanic culture,” he said. “For example, Mexicans don’t necessarily eat the same things as Puerto Ricans.”
However, growth in the specialty category has transcended demographics, said Mary Ostlund, marketing director with Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals LLC.
“With specialties overall, there have been surveys of the American consumer that show they actively look for new and exciting taste to include in their menus – different spices, different meats and definitely different produce,” she said.