29 April 2021, 07:22 AM
  • The pandemic saw consumers reaching for more nostalgic food products as they sought out familiar childhood favourites. What’s next for this trend?
Retro foods made a Covid comeback… will it last?

Nostalgic comfort foods saw a boom during the pandemic as shoppers turned to their cupboards for comfort.

“Comfort foods offer consumers something soothing, familiar and nostalgic,” Amy Devitt, taste and nutrition company Kerry’s senior marketing specialist for meat in North America, wrote in a blog post during the height of the pandemic. “A majority of Americans report their favorite foods remind them of childhood, stirring up memories of a simpler, safer time.”

Here in the UK, childhood classics have also been on the rise throughout the Covid outbreak. The BBC reported that internet searches for banoffee pie more than doubled in the first months of lockdown, and bread and butter pudding searches also grew. Waitrose said sales of rice pudding were heading up, while Co-op revealed demand for packet desserts was surging, with sales of dried trifle up 738% and custard powder up 336%.

Brands and retailers have jumped on the nostalgia bandwagon, with Irn-Bru owner AG Barr launching Irn-Bru 1901 in March 2021, a version of the drink based on an older recipe with more sugar. And after Co-op found that jelly sales were up three times higher than pre-lockdown, Sainsbury’s included a Raspberry and Elderflower Dome of moulded jelly in its 2021 spring and summer range.

Sweet-tooths aside, the nostalgia trend has also impacted meat sales – particularly tinned meat. Spam and corned beef internet searches grew by 50% between March and May 2020, the BBC reported, and Co-op saw sales of tinned ham more than double. According to recent reports, data from Kantar shows sales of canned meat rose by £9.8m to reach £83.3m over the past year, helped by a big rise in sales among Millennial-aged shoppers.

Does this mean fine food retailers should be stocking up on corned beef and classic puddings?

While the tinned food trend is likely to rage on, experts predict that post-Covid, food products with strong health credentials will sell well. But that doesn’t mean that customers will be finished with seeking comforts from their food – instead, they may turn to functional foods, those filled with health and wellness-boosting properties. The Covid-19 pandemic is by no means over, and until it is, consumer behaviour may remain unpredictable, but after more than a year of comforting indulgences, the return of healthier feel-good food will be a welcome one.