Popularity of comfort food soared during the pandemic and isn’t letting up as the pandemic recedes. In fact, a desire for comfort food continues to drive 2022 consumer food choices—and sometimes with new twists. Food Navigator recently reported that consumers are still seeking out feel-good foods, whether those be favorites from childhood or those associated with fun times and happy thoughts.
Comfort food offers grounding in familiarity and nostalgia, especially in uncertain times, and “the comeback of comfort food isn’t slowing down,” according to FSR Magazine. Across segments, operators have added more comfort food to menus, and it’s selling. Almost 7 out of 10 consumers say they have every intention of continuing to enjoy comfort food now.
FSR Magazine also cites data from the National Restaurant Association noting that one-third of foodservice patrons are more likely to order take-out or delivery when comfort food options are offered on the menu. Even more people say that comfort food on the menu influences their choice of restaurants for on-site dining.
New twists on menu favorites
New to ageless comfort food are a few new twists. “Consumers’ pursuit of comforting foods with a slight twist in flavor, ingredients, and nutritional benefits will drive the majority growth of the $170.4bn specialty food industry in 2022,” according to Food Navigator.
“Foods like pasta, pizza and soup are all comfort foods—and were consumed on a regular basis throughout the pandemic,” according to Restaurant Business Online. Food Navigator notes that pasta is staging a “comeback” in the comfort food category. Now, interesting pasta ingredients such as “black rice, red lentils, or purple carrots instead of traditional wheat” are on-trend, they say.
Millennials want more
As a demographic, Millennials flocked to comfort food over the past couple of years, and one-third of them say they are going to eat even more comfort food this year, according to Food Business News. While the majority are meat-eaters or flexitarian, they are nevertheless drawn to plant-based foods. What’s more, they’re particularly attracted to foods with functional value—fruits, vegetables, and seafood. Six in 10 say they will be eating more functional foods this year.
Food Navigator, too, says foods with benefits such as immune-enhancing properties, antioxidant properties, or anti-inflammatory effects are gaining ground across the board. In the snack category, keto-friendly desires are strong.
Trying new menu fare
In fact, new spins on timeless comfort food favorites can be a winning menu strategy. Consumers are looking for familiar favorites, which include macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, fish and chips, burrito bowls, and waffle fries—and they may respond well to something familiar paired with something new, suggests Restaurant Business Online.
To leverage healthful and functional-food angles on comfort foods, try replacing traditional meats with salmon or tuna, as in the Grilled Alaskan Salmon Burger or Salmon Pesto Ciabatta Sandwich. For a unique pasta salad, try Salmon Red Lentil Pasta Salad. For more ideas, check out the Chicken of the Sea comfort food recipe collection.