Specialty food continues to show a strong move into the US mainstream, with over 5,200 new specialty food products introduced into the country last year, according to figures out this week.

Research group Mintel, in partnership with the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, said the sector was now worth US$34.7bn.

“American consumers are continuing to take advantage of the country’s diverse cultures and offerings,” said Marcia Mogelonsky, senior analyst for Mintel.

“Fresh and authentic ingredients are in demand, and this is driving opportunity within this market. Wal-Mart and other companies have identified the specialty foods industry as a viable market to enter, and it will be interesting to see how their presence affects the industry in the upcoming years.”

The new launches were up 25% from 2000, with confectionery, beverages, and fruit and vegetables the leading “innovation” areas, Mintel said.

There were declines seen in soup, sauces and seasoning, and dairy new product launches.

The trend is being driven in part by the acclimatisation of immigrants into the US. Mintel believes more Vietnamese, Thai, and Indian flavours will continue to flourish within this category. In addition, Fair Trade products maintain their steady increase.

“Many food fads were created within the specialty food channel, but the demystification of the market is dulling the exotic edge,” said Mogelonsky.

“Distributors will need to look at new ways to repackage and market their products, because mainstream carriers are preparing the product floodgates to open.”