Specialty foods are becoming more affordable.

The best ways to buy specialty foods

It’s getting crazy on the food and drink front — first it was craft beer nuts taking a gulp out of the beer market and now specialty foods freaks are taking a bite out of conventional food giants.

It’s exciting — according to the October issue of Specialty Food Magazine nearly three-quarters of U.S. consumers shell out more cash for specialty foods. That’s cool, but what the hell is specialty food, and how does it differ from gourmet food? Or artisan food? Or organic food?

We went to the good people at Specialtyfoods.com for an answer. They don’t actually sell specialty food but they are the national trade group for businesses that sell the stuff. And they came up with a definition but it’s way too long so we diced it up for you:

Specialty Food Products exemplify quality, innovation and style. Their specialty nature derives from their originality, authenticity, ethnic or cultural origin, specific processing, ingredients, limited supply, (and) distinctive use. Such products maintain a high perceived value and often command a premium price.

That’s still a mouthful, but hopefully you get the gist — the stuff is primo. But a primo price usually comes along with the product.  But don’t fret my friends — you can still get your hands on these quality items even if you’re on a budget.

Let’s get down to business and start enjoying specialty foods on a budget…

1. Eat at home

General Manager Tom Scott of Oliver’s Markets in Sonoma County agrees: “We find that our customers are looking for higher quality foods to cook at home. We believe that our customers are searching for an alternative to dinning out by buying high quality food to serve at their own tables.”

Take a pass on the over-priced restaurant and invite a few friends over for some snacks — how about a few craft beers paired with Daelia’s Beer Flat Crackers topped with a Bobolink Dairy cave-ripened cheddar. The pairing will sing in your mouth.

 2. Enjoy one item at a time

You don’t have to buy a whole meal’s worth of specialty food. You can choose one item to make a meal unique. Louis Kramer, Communications Director at the Specialty Food Associations, gives this advice: “Specialty food does not have to be a major investment, and it can be an economical way to liven up an at-home meal. A distinctive chutney (check out The Virginia Chutney Co.) might cost $4 or more a jar, but it can last for several meals, as an accompaniment to cheese or meat.”

3. Go local

Help the local working man and woman out. Why buy produce at the supermarket — that’s a total waste of money. Go to a farm market — you can’t get much more special than locally grown veggies and fruits or specialty jams and local baked breads. You’re also supporting the local farmer and economy. Websites such as Local Harvest can help you locate markets and family farms in your area.

Austin Peeler from the Bedford Cheese Shop, a small, independently run business in Brooklyn and Manhattan, New York expands on that: “We specialize in farmstead cheeses and our customers are conscience of the fact that they are supporting family farmers and will pay a little extra money for their high quality cheeses.”

4. Shop online

You have the technology: a home computer or phone — 43% of food lovers use their phones to shop. Use your phone to peruse foodie delights on sites such as Fooducopia and Gourmet Origins to name a few.  Put a few items in your virtual shopping cart and really cool foods end up at your doorstep. Nice.

Emilio Mignucci, vice president of Di Bruno Bros. out of Philadelphia, believes online shopping is a convenient way for people around the country to taste a variety of foods. “Regardless of where you live you can experience our products through our site. We offer discounts on shipping and our Customer Service reps are there to assist with any questions. It’s easy.”

5. Invite the family

According to a recent report in Specialty Food Magazine these foods appeal to all generations. It’s amazing, Baby Boomers, Gen X’s, and Millennials (Gen Y), can actually take a moment to stop criticizing and grumbling about each other’s taste in music, clothes and politics.

Food is one thing we can all finally agree upon. Next time you have family over invite them to bring a specialty food item — coffee, chocolate, olives, cheeses, smoked meats, or a locally grown vegetable dish. This way everyone is only spending the extra money on one or two items. But everyone enjoys the feast.

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