Sales of gourmet products are benefitting from what has been called the “hourglass market” phenomenon,” whereby consumer demand is strong for products at either the low or high end of the spectrum, but weak for products caught in the middle. Historically, products such as luxury chocolates occupied a narrowly defined niche, targeting affluent consumers who could afford to give these products as status gifts or splurge on them themselves. However, the gourmet/premium market is evolving as mainstream consumers—better-educated and more worldly because of exposure to fine foods and beverages in restaurants and cafés, through watching celebrity chefs on TV, and through travel abroad—are trading up to higher levels of quality and taste. As a result, gourmet products in categories such as beverages and confectionery are often the fastest-growing segments of their respective markets.
Marketers tout gourmet foods and beverages as “affordable little luxuries” that can be enjoyed every day. Fine coffees and tea, fine chocolates, artisan cheeses and baked goods, and superpremium ice cream are low-cost luxury items that continue to sell well even in times of economic turbulence. Gourmet products often serve as comfort foods that appeal to consumers who seek small indulgences in their otherwise frenetic lives.