health food nutrition LabelThe specialty foods market has garnered a large and consistent consumer following, as more than 80% of participants surveyed are committed buyers of at least one specialty food category, according to L.E.K. Consulting’s most recent food consumer study.

Big food and agribusiness and food ingredient manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the change in consumer preferences, and they must adapt to this shift to compete in the growing specialty food segment.

“The movement in consumer food buying preferences has significant long-term ramifications,” said Manny Picciola, Managing Director and leader of L.E.K.’s food and beverage practice. “More than half of those surveyed said they would be willing to pay a premium for specialty foods, and companies that quickly figure out how to meet consumer demand for more specialty food options will outperform those that are slow to react.”

In an effort to understand what motivates their food preferences, L.E.K. surveyed a large group of consumers to understand what influences their food purchases, how committed they are to buying specialty foods ( natural, non-GMO, gluten-free, enhanced) and to what extent they are willing to pay a premium for these products.

The study found that consumers don’t want processed foods that are heavy on sugar, salt and other unhealthy ingredients; they do want more foods that are natural, fresh and enriched with protein. Moreover, consumers are using food choices as a way to express their identity and they believe the choices are a reflection of their beliefs and how others perceive them.

“As our study shows, big food and agribusiness must change to meet consumer demand, but change won’t be easy, as major food producers have built their businesses around conventional ingredient supply chains with scale economics,” said Peter Walter, Managing Director and leader of L.E.K.’s agribusiness practice. “Moving into specialty markets, such as organic, cage free or non-GMO will require overhauling or rebuilding supply chains, launching or acquiring new brands, and determining how to optimize the economics of both conventional and specialty food supply chains.”

Additional insights can be found in “Beyond Organic: The Revolution in Consumer Food Expectations” by Manny Picciola and Peter Walter, Managing Directors, and Maria Steingoltz, a Senior Manager, in L.E.K. Consulting’s Food & Beverage and Agribusiness practices.