Report: More consumers follow chef pins, bring home (Nueske) bacon

It’s not just affluent retirees buying fresh pasta, specialty mustards and artisan honeys. Nearly 3/4 of all Americans buy specialty food prodCheeses -- like this selection from Iowa's Milton Creamery - lead the pack for specialty food purchasesucts, led by consumers aged 18-24, according to the 2013 Specialty Food Association report. No surprises here: chocolate, coffee, cheese and oils, as well as Italian, Mexican and Chinese food are the top selling categories – while items like quinoa and Greek food are gaining ground.

Good news: Consumers are increasingly bringing home specialty food items for everyday use versus special occasions such as dinner parties, and (thanks Food Network and PBS) they consider themselves better educated about those choices -- as well as what to do when they get their groceries home.

Savoring social: Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter were all noted by more than 50% of those polled as the top social media channels to engage with retailers and restaurants. I follow (and discuss) hundreds of chefs and restaurants on Twitter, but mainly use Pinterest for home menu inspirations and recipes. Are your favorite restaurants using Pinterest to entice you to come in on a Tuesday night?

Going mobile + local: More than 40% of percent of specialty food consumers are buying food on their mobile devices, and nearly half purchase foods with locally-grown ingredients.

Specialty Food Report Card: What are you buying … and why?

Specialty Food Magazine released its annual consumer report, revealing a growing interest in the marketplace (66% of U.S. consumers report having purchased specialty foods, up from 59% in 2011) with chocolate (62%), olive oil (59%) and cheese (56%) products leading the way. Have you sipped luxurious hot chocolate from Jacques Torres in NYC, sampled sea salt caramels from Fran’s in Seattle or explored sweets from your local chocolatier? (One of my favorites in NoVa is Artisan Confections) Beautiful, unique treats like these are worth their (relatively) small cost. No one re-gifts chocolate.

NASFT research indicates specialty food consumers are more inclined to shop at farmer’s markets, experiment with new recipes and buy food with a dual purpose, such as a charitible tie-in. A key note for the socmedia set: Facebook leads the way for discussing specialty food items and influencing buying decisions (77%), followed by YouTube (27%) and Twitter (19%). As a Twitter user whose feed is mostly populated with news + insight from chefs, brewers, winemakers and other F&B pros, I think the industry will see significant growth on that platform as well as the visual-heavy Pinterest -- especially among younger buyers – during the coming year.

As we head into the holiday season, what are you buying? Are you devoted to gourmet tea, fresh pasta or 20-year balsamic? And what most influences your purchases – word of mouth, social media, grocery browsing, impulse buys or traditional advertising?