Noshtalgia: Why classic tastes are driving food innovation

sector - food & drink
type - opinion
From alternative ingredients to monthly delivery drops, the quest for comfort, childhood flavours and convenience is bringing new products to diners’ tables

This year we’ve seen radical shifts in consumer spending and consumption habits when it comes to food and drink. With Covid-19 upending the hospitality sector as we know it, money that was once spent on going out has been spent on staying in. Grocery store sales boomed at the start of the pandemic as restaurants and bars suffered the consequences.

Yet, despite many places reopening, consumer anxiety continues as the pandemic endures and in turn, people are seeking comfort in familiar tastes and products. Ice cream sales in the US alone are up 13.4% as the pandemic drives consumers to crave comfort. Universally, food that provides consumers with a dose of nostalgia has seen a surge in popularity as people look to recreate the feeling of ‘the good old days’.

In the midst of uncertainty, nostalgic foods make people feel safe. ‘Generally, people find comfort in nostalgia during times of loss, anxiety, isolation or uncertainty,’ says Kristine Batcho, psychology professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York. Past recessions indicate this too. People tend to nest at home and search for recognisable indulgences – particularly those that won’t break the bank. Research has even proven that consumers have a preference for tastes they associate with experiences they had before they were 10 years old.

But getting sentimental doesn’t have to be overly indulgent. This reimagining of nostalgic comfort food is driving innovation in the sector, with many familiar products being revisited and reformulated to appeal to nostalgic – yet more mindful – Millennial consumers.

Published by:

10 December 2020

Author: Victoria Gates-Fleming

Image: Dream Pops, US


Left: Dream Pops campaign, US. Right: Offlimits

While we’ve previously seen OffLimits tuning into the nostalgia of cereal eating with more intriguing flavours, products that are traditionally considered ‘junk food’ are also getting the nostalgia treatment. NUGGS, the self-styled ‘Tesla of chicken’, makes direct-to-consumer nuggets with no chicken. Instead, its use of soy protein technology results in a healthier nugget to suit modern eating habits – but that same desire for something comforting.

LA-based Chubby Organics has reimagined the classic American peanut butter and jelly sandwich with organic ingredients and superfood claims. Meanwhile, Dream Pops has created plant-based, nutrient dense, low calorie and of course photogenic ice lollies, made in partnership with a three-star Michelin chef. This is nostalgia for the Instagram generation.

It’s not just ingredients that are being shaken up – it’s also the path to purchase. Many of these new brands allow you to buy straight from their website, turning acquisition into something a little more memorable. Both NUGGS and Chubby Organics encourage customers to subscribe to recurring monthly deliveries. It might sound crazy to have a subscription to chicken nuggets, but according to recent data from McKinsey, 75% consumers have tried a new shopping behaviour since the start of the pandemic. From different shopping methods to new brands, food shoppers are shaking up old loyalties in response to economic pressures, store closures and changing priorities.

As we move through unpredictable times, one thing we can guarantee is our collective craving for escapism and comfort. For as long as the world still feels tumultuous, consumers will long for familiarity and a delicious distraction. Looking ahead to 2021, there are vast opportunities for food brands to inspire and reconnect with grown up audiences by reimagining our childhood classics. The taste of nostalgia is just too irresistible.

Victoria Gates-Fleming is senior director of digital strategy at Day One Agency, a creative communications agency with the ambition of stopping the world in its scroll with stories that earn a place in culture.

‘Although food and beverage nostalgia differs from person to person, there’s science behind our strong emotional ties to food.’
Fona International report​

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