Trends trump taste in specialty foods

Forget meat and potatoes. Americans today increasingly want pomegranate-based drinks, spices such as smoked paprika, and other once exotic items, and the media have responded by increasing the amount of specialty items covered in food sections.

Forget meat and potatoes. Americans today increasingly want pomegranate-based drinks, spices such as smoked paprika, and other once exotic items, and the media have responded by increasing the amount of specialty items covered in food sections.

"There are so many more journalists actually covering the food space now, and that includes specialty items," notes Jane Mazur, SVP of media relations at Ogilvy PR. "The weekly food sections in newspapers are now more robust than ever, and they're all looking for interesting fodder."

Grace Leong, president of New York-based Hunter Public Relations, adds that what once were considered niche food items are being seen well beyond the food pages. "Food is now as much a lifestyle accessory, so everybody from the front pages to the entertainment pages is interested in how food affects lifestyle," she says.

Part of what's driving media interest in specialty foods is that there are more of them than ever before, which has created a glut of new items on grocery shelves.

That also means food editors can be very choosy about what they cover, and simply tasting great may not be good enough anymore. "Taste is such a subjective thing, so it's never really a good idea to base your pitch on that," explains Leong. "When it comes to specialty foods, it's always about the new and novel."

Stacey Bender, president of The Bender-Hammerling Group, suggests that food reporters are also increasingly taking their specialty food cues from the growing number of high-profile celebrity chefs. "The media will first start paying attention to specialty food trends in restaurants and then follow them as they trickle down to grocery stores," explains Bender, whose clients include Saphia Water for pregnant and nursing women. "But they also remain interested in nutrition, so you have a strong advantage with products that have a clear health benefit."

Jennifer Juergens, who represents John and Kira's Chocolates, adds: "I'm doing a lot with women's magazines, and I just got into Successful Meetings on how these chocolates are great as pillow gifts for conference or seminar attendees. So I'm finding there's a lot of media angles for specialty foods."

Pieter van Vorstenbosch, PR director for Sopexa USA, is spearheading the European Union's European Authentic Tastes program, which promotes four designations of quality labels for EU food products. He says he expects media interest in specialty foods to continue, adding, "I think the media have picked up on the fact that people are much more aware of what they're eating and have become very label-conscious."


PITCHING... Specialty Foods Media

You're going to need more than a claim of great taste to get specialty food products covered these days, so look to integrate your client's product into the latest culinary trends

Specialty foods must actually get to grocery shelves before consumers can buy them, so be sure to target key trades like Supermarket News and Progressive Grocer

Leverage celebrity chefs and cookbook authors to add third-party credibility to your client's new specialty food

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