Consumers Crave Comfort Food

People say they are into healthier options, but comfort food is here to stay.

March 14, 2022

Pasta Bowl

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Healthy food and mindful meeting may be on trend, but Americans are grabbing comfort food staples now more than ever, report Forbes.

A late-2020 survey by Farm Rich found that 70% of respondents said they’re consuming more comfort food and envision themselves continuing to consume more. NielsenIQ data show that sales of comfort food in the first two months of 2022 were higher than in the same period in 2019. Searches for “comfort food” on Google spiked in 2020 and have remained slightly higher than they were pre-pandemic.

“Food can be a source of well-being,” ​​Sanjiv Gajiwala, North American chief growth officer for Kraft Heinz, told Forbes. “Just like mindfulness, what you put in your body has an emotional resonance, as well as a physical resonance.”

Forbes reports that certain healthy food companies are down in sales. Shares of Beyond Meat have shed $6 billion since March 2020 due to weak sales growth, and Vita Coco stock is down one quarter from its October debut. Stock prices of Stryve, which manufactures air-dried jerkies, and Zevia, which makes a Stevia-sweetened energy drink, have also fallen since going public last year. Despite Oatly’s revenue rising 50%, its investors are not banking on the success. Its market cap is down to $3 billion from the $10 billion valuation of its July IPO.

At the same time, food startups offering innovation have not been as successful as in years past. Forbes reports that at least 13 food companies went public in 2021, and almost all of them have failed. Packaging shortages, rising transportation costs, fees to get on supermarket shelves and lack of investor interest in innovative food brands have resulted in stunted growth for new food companies.

“Back in the day, you could take risks,” GT Dave told Forbes. Dave is the CEO of GT’s Living Foods, and he began brewing and selling kombucha nearly three decades ago, when he was 17 years old. “We’ve experienced remarkable and never-seen-before conditions and circumstances. We thought that 2020 presented the worst of things, and then, of course, we were wrong. 2021 through 2022 has made 2020 look like a cakewalk.”

Some food startups are taking the route of partnering with large food companies. NotCo has partnered with Kraft Heinz to create vegan alternatives of classic items like Oscar Mayer hot dogs, Cheez-Whiz and Philadelphia cream cheese.

“There’s a cross-generational effect,” NotCo founder and CEO Matias Muchnick told Forbes. Parents “started trying their kids’ NotBurgers, NotMilk and NotMayo.”

Large food companies see innovative food startups as a way to tap into a younger demographic, who may want to make vegan not-dogs a new comfort food and top them with Heinz ketchup.

“Now we have a base of consumers that’s larger in range of demographics, because of the pandemic,” Muchnick told Forbes. “That’s an effect that’s long-lasting.”

NACS Daily reported on these five food industry trends for 2022, which include plant-based comfort food and pasta.

In a recent NACS Magazine article about increasing evening daypart foodservice, Pennsylvania-based c-store Rutter’s emphasizes comfort food in its offerings.

“Comfort food is a staple of our business,” said Chad White, category manager for foodservice at Rutter’s. “We have plant-based items on our menu, but customers have gone back to those comfort foods—pizza, eggrolls, mac and cheese and fried sides. We’ve upgraded our mac and cheese to shells instead of macaroni noodles, and we’re using white cheddar. We’ve seen good sales from that.”

See how the foodservice category performed last year in convenience stores at the NACS State of the Industry Summit, set for April 12-14 in Chicago. Matt High, category sales manager, senior made to order, Sheetz, will present the foodservice category deep dive. Registration is open.