Consumers indulge to lift spirits, food makers say

Mon Jun 29, 2009 5:17pm EDT
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By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Specialty-food makers showcasing wares this week say anxious consumers are consoling themselves, and buoying the gourmet industry, by seeking solace in tasty treats from chocolate sushi to lavender-laced cheese.

Fancy-food makers, more than 2,000 of which were exhibiting at the annual trade show in New York, say consumers may not buy big-ticket items amid the recession but they will allow themselves smaller indulgences.

"People may not be buying flat-screen TVs, but they will buy lobster mac and cheese," said Cal Hancock, whose Maine-based Hancock Gourmet Lobster Co. sells the frozen delicacy. "It's the ultimate comfort food."

Paul Ioanidis, of Jer's Handmade Chocolates in Solana Beach, California, said sales are strong. "People will indulge a little bit to feel better, and premium chocolates are a pretty inexpensive way to feel good," he said.

The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, which sponsors the trade show, said the industry had $60 billion in U.S. sales in 2008. Fifty-eight percent of its manufacturers reported a drop in sales last year, due to economic pressures.

The research also found that a downturn in restaurant sales has helped specialty foods as consumers cook more at home. That move away from restaurant dining has been evident in sales trends, several vendors said.


"If you're going to save money, you're not going to eat in restaurants so much. If you're cooking at home, you use more seasoning," said Joe Walker of Slap Ya Mama Cajun Seasoning, based in Ville Platte, Louisiana.   Continued...