Trendologists with Andrew Freeman & Co. predict that Americans shaken by natural disasters, unpredictable politicians and an uncertain economy will take solace in comfort food next year as a way to escape from reality. Freeman said during a recent online presentation reported by Food Navigator that shopping habits are changing in response to all the upheaval that occurred in 2017.
Consumers who are stressed out will choose nostalgic foods that remind them of a simpler time, he said. Making a comeback are what used to be considered kids' foods such as macaroni and cheese, pizza and chicken nuggets, along with Pop Rocks, Cheetos, Fruity Pebbles, cookie dough and gummy bears, Freeman said in the presentation.
But despite all the chaos and uncertainty of today, U.S. consumers have become more educated about healthy foods, Freeman noted. The types of comfort foods they pick will end up being higher-quality ones with better-for-you ingredients.
This preference for comfort food can conflict with the trend toward healthier items. Consumers may generally want to seek out healthier products, such as items that are natural, organic, non-GMO and gluten-free. But when they want comfort, there's nothing like favorite feel-good processed foods.
Healthier versions of some of these comfort foods have appeared in the recent past. Kraft last year reformulated its iconic macaroni and cheese to remove the artificial dyes and preservatives, some processed foods contain less sodium, and chips are also getting less salty and fatty. Some comfort food is even sporting added vegetables.
Healthier or not, some staple products that are seen as comforting could have a big year in 2018. If Freeman is correct in his predictions, cheese could do extremely well, especially if societal stress doesn't improve. According to Suzy Badaracco, a trends forecaster and president of Culinary Tides, cheese consumption hit its highest point in years in 2008 — 33.64 pounds per capita, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture — as the country entered into its deepest recession since the 1930s.
Manufacturers who take note of the connection between political upheaval and dietary preferences are in a good position to appeal to rattled consumers. People tend to use similar language when describing comfort foods — words such as "loaded," "smothered" and "gooey." Brands can adopt similar language when marketing the products they position as comfort foods rather than focusing only on better-for-you ingredient changes. Items that can strike a balance between health and indulgence may have an edge in the realm of comfort foods.