Free Food Industry Research Sources For Your Business Plan

Here's How to Get Started Planning Your Food Business With Clever Research

An aspiring food entrepreneur asked about free resources to search for highly specific demographic consumer eating trend information, for example, how much workers with a certain income level spend on organic mid-day snacks. 

She noted: "All the online sources I find are very expensive." Yup! While the Internet is full of macro data on food shopper trends, that specific data may require a bit of investment—which could make the most sense as a survey or focus group.

Here are a few reliable sources of free or cheap data for specialty, natural and organic food trend research.

Research Specific Specialty Food and Beverage Trends

Chocolate industry research detective style
What's ahead for the chocolate industry?. Susie Wyshak

The Specialty Food Association publishes an incredibly useful annual State of the Specialty Food Industry report that gives you rankings of food popularity overall as well as slicing and dicing food sales statistics, in collaboration with global research firm Mintel, by food product category.

Plus, the Specialty Food Association sends out a daily newsletter with their finds of trend reports from around the world and around the Internet.

Data On Natural and Organic Food and Beverage Trends

farm fresh organic dried fruit
What healthful snack foods are hot and growing?. Susie Wyshak

Research report summaries from SPINS, a leading information provider for the Natural and Specialty Products Industry, offer some insight into food trends and shopper habits. Their big fat reports take time and money, which is why the full reports do cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Penton publishes a wide array of natural and organic food industry magazines and research results.

Publications such as Functional Ingredients dig a bit deeper into discoveries and health reports that can make the case for a more expensive, functional food.

Starting a Beverage Business?

There's no shortage of publications for you to start with (with quite similar names) such as Beverage Industry and Beverage World.

Better yet, the American Beverage Association lists all the magazines and points you to additional research on beer, wine, cocktails and every other drink imaginable.

Research Supermarket and Retail Business Publications and Websites

Grocery Outlet
Survey and / or observe customers in-store to gather data. Susie Wyshak

BNP Media publishes an array of magazines on niche food and beverage industry topics like Prepared Foods and Snack Foods & Wholesale Bakery. (Their Independent Processor may offer an inside peek into how co-packers and other food manufacturers work, which could be useful to get you up to speed.)

BNP also publishes category-specific food industry magazines such as Candy Industry and Dairy Foods.

Other informative food retail industry publications include:

Tap Into Food Trade Associations for Industry Research

Artisanal aged goat cheese
Cheese makers are lucky to have a number of trade and marketing groups for support. Susie Wyshak

For most any food category there's a food trade group to support your efforts to create the next great cupcake or yogurt company.

A quick Internet search will turn up a trade association—combine:

  • your food category
  • the phrase trade association or marketing association
  • (optionally) your state

For example the group behind Real California Milk ties into cheese marketing for makers within the state, as in WisconsinConfectioners and independent natural foods retailers have their trade groups as well.

Special Note to Food Crafters

Look into joining the Good Food Award Merchant Guild which unites food crafters from around the United States. Insights from companies making charcuterie and tapping into meat from folks like the Butcher's Guild may not be the same as research powered by "big food" manufacturers.

A Simple Way to Start Planning Your Food Business

When interviewing dozens of food companies to write Good Food, Great Business, I repeatedly heard entrepreneurs mention a simple form of research that had helped them immeasurably: asking other companies to share data they have collected or observed. Asking goes a long way as does embarking on a detective hunt for existing reports and trend data. Be prepared to invest time, money, sharing karma and energy in the research process.