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Specialty Food Sales Surge in US

Visitors to the Fancy Food Show in Washington
Visitors to the Fancy Food Show in Washington

Despite the country's economic downturn, the sale of specialty foods and beverages in the United States is booming, with more Americans buying gourmet foods.

Many Americans are hungry for specialty foods.

"This is a classical Mauritian dish with shrimp. We serve it with a little bit of a seafood curry with black-eyed peas and a little bit of calamari," said one South African chef.

"I like the sauce a lot. I have to try the chicken. It's good," said one woman who tried it.

With 180,000 products on display at this Fancy Food Show, there's no shortage of scrumptious morsels to taste.

The trade show earlier this month in Washington, D.C., is the largest in North America and attracted manufacturers from 81 countries. Allyson Myers sells handmade gourmet chocolates.

"It's a real cost effective way to reach out to customers and also to have our product here, to be able to feel and touch and taste it. Again. I cannot travel with 300 products to their location, but they can come to our world," said Myers.

Americans spent $70 billion on gourmet items last year. Louise Kramer is a spokeswoman for the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade.

"People may not have been buying BMWs [automobiles], but they were buying wonderful dark chocolate bars to treat themselves. Also, people have stopped dining out as much, but as Americans have gotten more sophisticated and adventurous with their dining, they now want better products at home," said Kramer.

The Fancy Food Show started in the early 1950s as a way for foreign exporters to promote products to American consumers. Laure Tall is from Senegal.

"They are really intrigued by one of our jams, the red hibiscus flower jam. It is made from fresh hibiscus flowers and they really are intrigued and they want to taste it," said Tall.

Mariam Toure is from Ivory Coast. She said that selling her cashew products in the U.S. helps about 800 workers back home.

"The factory is located in the poorest region in Ivory Coast where we employ those women and men that work in our factories so that they are able to provide food at home," she said. "For us to be able to come here [to the U.S.] and showcase our company and get buyers that will help us grow so we can provide more food on the table for those people [workers]."

U.S. producers also are a big part of the Fancy Food Show. Walter Nash runs Lefty's Barbecue in Maryland, not far from Washington.

"We have been picked up by two chains, two chains of stores already," said Nash.

Economists say the U.S. speciality food industry will continue to thrive as American consumers look for unique products to satisfy their ever-changing appetites.

** This story incorrectly identified a shrimp dish as Mauritanian instead of Mauritian. VOA regrets the error.