Across all demographics, consumers are willing to indulge in comfort food very frequently, and for almost any occasion, special or otherwise. Most surprisingly, when choosing their comfort foods, consumers are far more driven by practical factors like taste than emotional factors like nostalgia. Comfort food, as we discover, isn't sacred or lavish; it's simple, cheap, often store-bought, and delicious. Indulging in comfort food is more often an immediate pleasure, instead of a journey into the past. Consumers' happy place, it turns out, lies squarely in their taste buds. They are wanting a meal that takes good and that they are excited to eat. Not every time the food will bring along a memory, although, that often happens when consumers are eating their meal. Some dishes that become favorites, get added into weekly rotations and then end up
Most consumers weave their comfort foods into at least one meal a week, usually for dinner or as a late-night snack. Some of the main drivers of consuming comfort foods are stress, feeling tired and not willing to cook, or when consumers feel lonely. Traveling to new places can be uneasy for some guests, so consumers may also want to choose a food option that brings familiarity to them when they are eating out. However, what are these comfort foods and why are they important?
A Datassential field of research among 756 US consumers completed in January 2023 found that nearly 60% of consumers would rather grab a quick snack than a full meal, with over half being fine with takeout instead of a home-cooked meal.
In the realm of comfort foods, the report shows that taste and practicality triumph over nostalgia or emotional attachments. Among the study, the top 3 qualities consumers look for in comfort food are:
• Delicious taste
• Easily accessible
We’ve ironed out what these types of foods are, but let’s allow the data to pinpoint some dishes. Within the category of meals & dishes, here are the top 5 comfort foods consumers crave.
• Pizza (55%)
• French Fries (45%)
• Burgers (44%)
• Pasta (39%)
• Chicken Nuggets (38%)
Do any of these foods create a mouth-watering feel? To most of us, they probably do! However, with most comfort foods comes guilt. We can see over 60% of consumers who indulge in their comfort foods feel guilty afterward. To balance this out, more than 80% of those usually follow the next meal with something healthy or exercise harder the next day. Not all comfort food has to make consumers feel guilty. There can be healthy alternatives that still leave a sense of peace and calmness. Having both types on your restaurant’s menu is smart to do as it will please your guests with many different choices.
Gen Z is commanding attention from menu developers as they enter adulthood and gain more purchasing power2. Better yet, their cravings for new takes on familiar dishes are exciting for operators too. And with so many fully cooked proteins available, chefs have a lot of leeway to play with simple ingredient twists without adding more back-of-house complexity.
Leaning into nostalgic foods and adding trendy flavor twists is how you can help your customers make the most of this comfort food trend. Foods that are familiar and have that warm and familiarity feeling can still evoke memories even with updated ingredients.
With this in mind, we know comfort foods are here to stay as new recipes, snacks, and trends spark our experimental taste buds. Optimizing menus and recipe ideas to include comfort food options is also a way to allow guests to feel more comfortable or ‘at home’ in a dining setting. The data shows consumers pay the trade-off with indulgence in comfort foods they love with additional exercise or dietary adjustments to follow.
Content courtesy of Unilever Foodsolutions