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While the Omicron variant spread and uncertainty ramped up on the eve of Christmas last year, Brits continued to find solace in the same way they have since March 2020: treats. Chocolate, nostalgic puddings, home-cooked dinners – these have all become part of the self-treating trend, which took off in the wake of Covid as stressed, anxious consumers sought to use food to brighten their days.
According to Kantar’s figures, there was “ample evidence of people treating themselves and guests” over Christmas. Sales of sweet treats swelled to £62m, and Christmas chocolate purchases rose by 21% to £61m. What’s more, the market researcher points out, sales of indigestion remedy products rose by 8%. It’s clear that food was a focal point for many this festive season.
However, 2022 and the January effect have brought a renewed focus to the health and wellness trend. Is it enough to diminish the relevance of self-treating?
“In the early stages of the pandemic, consumers craved a sense of nostalgia, comfort, and connection, which led to a period dominated by permissible indulgence and an enthusiastic embrace of convenience culture in the form of ready-meals and speedy takeaway delivery,” said Mandy Saven, director of consumer lifestyle at trends intelligence experts Stylus.
“Confectionery sharing bags carried consumers through unsettledness and uncertainty, and whilst restaurant doors were shut, Instagram and TikTok enticed us with ‘fake away’ ideas that massively amped up the deliciousness factor,” she continued.
This desire to treat oneself isn’t going anywhere, Mandy said, but the products that individuals consider to be ‘treat-worthy’ has broadened. “With multicultural cities, communities, family and friendship groups now keener than ever to have their culinary heritage represented in mainstream circles, a more diverse lens on comfort food has emerged. This means that everything from sushi and sambal to shakshuka now easily slot into the widened definition of comfort food. And this is really exciting – new emotional attachments, memories and associations are being embedded into global food experiences,” Mandy said.
Many indulgences took the form of snacks, and regular self-treating is something that Many expects to stick around. “The widespread manifestation of snacking culture will continue to deliver micro-moments of edible comfort and satisfaction – and this is something we’ve seen throughout the pandemic,” Mandy continued. “Sweet and savoury mealtime stop-gaps have become integral to consumers’ daily diets and hold huge commercial opportunity for brands.”
What’s more, healthy, indulgent brands are challenging the idea that feel-good food can’t also do good. Philip Linardos, co-founder and CEO of ShelfNow, said since the start of the new year, his business has seen a strong interest from buyers for products that are traditionally healthy and indulgent. “Some of our most popular orders have been for Happy Inside (a gut health drink range), Doughlicious (a gourmet gluten-free cookie dough producer) and La Plantation (a sustainable spices producer who specialise in delivering spices from the Kampot area in Cambodia),” he said.
As the wellness industry spreads to the food and drink sector, the demand for feel-good food with a health or wellbeing twist will only grow. “Will we continue to treat ourselves in 2022? Absolutely,” Mandy concluded. “And, so we should. With mindful eating become more rooted in the consciousness of modern consumers, there’s a time, place, recipe and snack for everything. The next step forward for food brands is to show consumers that indulgence, wellness, ethics and sustainability can all be equally prioritised.”