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Isnít that special
Here are some highlights from the 2013 State of the Specialty Food Industry report:
•Total specialty food sales in 2012 – $85.8 billion
•Average annual sales for specialty food manufacturers – $1.71 million
•The size of the average specialty food store – 5,000 square feet
•Ninety-five percent of specialty food stores carry all-natural products, and 88 percent feature local, which is defined as being produced within 200 miles of the location.
•Gluten-free and easy-to-prepare foods were the characteristics most likely to be included in manufacturer development plans for 2013.
Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Frequent customer Anita Gildea shops for lettuce at the locally owned Hill’s Market in Waynedale.

Specialty grocers on rise

Plans for 3 local stores reflect ‘cultural shift’ in shoppers’ interests

Scott Dunfee, Mark Renninger and Brad McDonough cut meat at Hill’s Market in Waynedale.

Here’s what you won’t find at Hill’s Meat Market in Waynedale: Rows of checkout aisles, touch-screen technology, conveyor belts or even a PA system announcing the day’s special.

Here’s what you will find: Loyal customers who believe they’re buying quality food when doing business with the merchant.

And that, friends, is all you really need.

“The people who shop here trust us because they know we have good meat and produce,” said Chuck Hill, who runs the market with his wife, Julie. “We hand-grind our meats right here on site, and the produce is grown locally. People know what they’re getting because they can see it.”

Consumers increasingly want to be able to identify the origin of their food, and many feel specialty outlets – or local grocers – offer healthier products.

Specialty food sales reached nearly $86 billion last year, up from $75 billion in 2011 and $70 billion in 2010, according to the Specialty Food Association.

By comparison, traditional supermarkets recorded about $402 billion in sales last year, up from $398 billion in 2011 and $369 billion in 2010, based on figures from Progressive Grocer, an industry tracker.

Foods free of hormones, high-fructose corn syrup and gluten are the kinds of products health-conscious shoppers desire. Summit City consumers evidently are a target audience. In the coming year, Fort Wayne could have at least three new specialty stores debuting.

Brian Hench hopes to begin construction on teds market, a $2.5 million grocery offering fresh produce, meats and baked goods, in a plan to convert Union Chapel Church into a store on the city’s north side. He wants to sell “healthy food,” including gourmet sandwiches and salads.

“I wouldn’t even call this a trend. It’s a cultural shift in the way people think about their food,” said Hench, whose family owns the Chief Supermarkets chain in Defiance, Ohio. “People want to know how their food is being produced and where it’s coming from.”

Other stores on tap are an Earth Fare grocery at the former Scott’s store on East Dupont Road and an organic market at the Lamplight Inn assisted-living facility downtown.

A spokeswoman at Fletcher, N.C.-based Earth Fare would say only that the company expects to open in late April. Workers are performing at least $3 million in renovations at Dupont Crossings shopping plaza, where Earth Fare will occupy about 22,000 square feet, said John Rogers, co-manager of the Rogers Companies, which will be Earth Fare’s landlord.

“We visited two of their stores in Indy and came away very impressed,” said Rogers, whose family began in the grocery business but primarily is a property investment firm. “It really is a full-service gourmet grocery store. Their thing is, ‘We read the labels so you don’t have to.’ ”

Lamplight Inn owners are investing $500,000 to open a fresh foods and organic grocery on the east side of their building on the ground floor on East Washington Boulevard. The market also will stock locally grown fruits and vegetables in addition to dairy products in a 5,500-square-foot store.

In fact, downtown’s mix of young professionals and Lamplight’s senior community should prove a boon for the business, said Louise Kramer, spokeswoman for the Specialty Food Association in New York.

“The 65-and-older segment is very concerned about eating healthy,” she said. “It’s a very large consumer group. The growth of specialty foods is on the rise, and it comes as no surprise that bigger retailers are paying attention.”

For example, Kroger Co.’s only two Marketplace stores in the state are in Fort Wayne. Both have large wooden signs in the produce area declaring “Indiana Grown.” The retailer says a large quantity of its fruits and vegetables are from Hoosier farmers.

That means a lot to Patricia Ahrendsen. The 67-year-old Fort Wayne resident has shopped at Hill’s Meat Market for 25 years.

“I shop here for the meat, but I like the smallness, too,” Ahrendsen said. “I don’t want to have to walk a country mile for a stick of butter. I like Hill’s because I know them. I knew his grandfather who started the business. That counts for something.”