In 2020, consumers turned to their favorite comfort foods in a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty. This year, the role of comfort food has shifted—and consumers are finding new ways to enjoy these classic dishes, especially as regional restrictions lift and dining rooms start to reopen. Research shows that while consumers are trying to incorporate more healthful meals into their diets,1 they have no desire to give up their favorites. In fact, 57% say they’re looking forward to seeing new comfort food and beverage trends in the year ahead.2 Combined with demand for spicy flavors, global cuisine and plant-based options, it’s clear that signature takes on nostalgic dishes can reinvigorate the comfort category.
Something to consider is the fact that “comfort food” means different things to different people. When asked what comes to mind, 41% of patrons say it’s something they ate growing up, 37% say a hearty or filling dish and 18% think about specific cuisine types (such as Southern or Italian).3 While there may not be a single definition of comfort food, common threads include the feeling of satiety and the emotional association with a particular dish. For operators, innovation may come in the form of “grown-up” versions of childhood favorites, infusing bold ingredients into everything from casseroles to meat loaf.
Taking inspiration from authentic global cuisines is another winning approach, especially considering that comfort classics like dumplings, stews and pastas can be found around the world. Memorable flavor stories will ensure that the comfort trend endures, no matter what lies ahead!
of consumers say they want familiar items they’ve been missing during the pandemic, once they’re able to return to restaurants.4
of consumers like or love grilled cheese.5
menu growth of mac and cheese, demonstrating the potential for already popular menu items to keep growing.6
#ComfortFood7 encompasses over 8.9 million Instagram photos, with mouth-watering closeups of creamy soups, rich curries and stews, crispy fried chicken, heaping portions of risotto and more. Exploring this tag is a great way to take a deeper dive into authentic comfort foods found all around the world.
At Custom Culinary®, we are passionate about creating delicious food that is healthy, sustainable and nutritious. In a time when consumers are seeking comfort, we’re working with our customer partners to develop products and dishes with a healthier twist. The addition of nutrient-dense ingredients or simple substitutions can put a nourishing spin on comfort foods that are typically associated with indulgence.
1Cherryh Cansler, “The 2021 menu battle: Comfort food vs healthier options,” Fast Casual, December 22, 2020.
2,3Datassential, “Simply Smarter Webinar: The Amazing Trends Episode,” January 21, 2021.
4Datassential, “Simply Smarter Webinar: A Shot in the Arm,” February 18, 2021.
5Datassential FLAVOR, 2020.
6Datassential MenuTrends, U.S. menu penetration growth 2016-2020.
7Instagram, #comfortfood accessed April 23, 2021.