The specialty food industry continues to draw new consumers, particularly men and millennials. Nearly six in 10 consumers surveyed purchased a specialty food or beverage in the past six months, up from 47% in 2015, according to new consumer research from the Specialty Food Association and Mintel.

The findings are based on an on-line survey of 2,155 adults in July. Specialty food sales last year rose to a record $120.5 billion, driven by the growth of small businesses and consumer trends. The core specialty food shopper is between the ages of 25 to 44 with a household income of $75,000 or more. Last year, men for the first time surpassed women as more likely to buy specialty food, and the gap has widened in 2016.

Millennials, 78% of whom buy specialty food, tend to shop for such products across a wide range of categories and retailers. These consumers buy specialty foods for everyday meals or snacking, as treats or gifts, for special occasions or to share at the office.

“Discovering specialty food has become a core part of the younger consumer’s daily shopping routine,” said Phil Kafarakis, president of the Specialty Food Association. “They are moving away from the staples that they grew up with and embracing the new tastes and flavors of specialty food.”

Cheese, chocolate and frozen desserts rank among the most purchased specialty food products among all consumers, but beverages, cereal, non-chocolate candy, frozen or chilled meals and pasta are rising in popularity.

While today’s consumers are more likely than ever to buy specialty food on-line, the top three channels where consumers purchase such products are supermarkets, natural food stores and mass merchants. In these channels, however, sales of specialty food have dipped slightly or remained flat as such nontraditional players as club stores, convenience stores and department stores gain share. Nearly half of specialty food consumers surveyed said they would like to see greater availability of specialty products in the stores where they most frequently shop.

“We’ve been conducting this research with Mintel since 2005 in order to help producers, suppliers and buyers better understand specialty food consumers,” Mr. Kafarakis said. “It seems clear that as the consumer base changes and those consumers' needs evolve, their shopping choices become increasingly more driven by convenience. Retailers and manufacturers need to stay nimble to cater to them.”