Comfort Food’s Soaring Popularity Creates an Evolving Opportunity

Comfort food has become a little … uncomfortable for manufacturers in recent years. Consumers want the tastes and textures they identify with these foods, which in many cases were brought about by fat, sugar and/or salt. But as part of an active lifestyle focused on wellness, those same consumers want more natural ingredients, cleaner labels, and decidedly less of those dietary no-nos.

That tension came into sharp focus as the pandemic made people seek out comfort while staying focused on health, according to a recent article in Food Technology magazine. The solution, increasingly, is evolution in the comfort space. That can mean opportunity in a “new comfort” niche full of rich, robust food and flavor combinations and much more, says Mitin Rathod, global marketing director for Sensient Flavors & Extracts.

“More consumers are looking at product labels versus any other time in history,” Rathod says in the article, adding that consumers may still want chicken nuggets and ice cream, but now they explore ice cream made with alternative sweeteners, and their eye is drawn to plant-based nuggets.

The possibilities are endless. As the article points out, people are not going to turn away from chip flavor stalwarts such as sour cream and onion or barbecue, so manufacturers’ focus should be on what they’ll turn toward — healthier vehicles for those flavors, such as veggie-based puffs. And on the beverage side, well-loved brands are rolling out “zero sugar” alternatives.

Now to the challenge: create the products that pull on the nostalgic comfort heartstrings but are modernized to fit a “better for you” profile. By staying cognizant of consumers’ desires and exploring product niches beyond the snack aisle — Rathod points out seafood dishes and desserts — manufacturers can expand their market share and garner more consumer loyalty.

Sensient’s flavor technologists have the tools, ingredients, and experience to help longtime best-selling comfort foods and beverages get new life with cleaner, healthier taste, texture, and ingredients. Let’s explore how we can give your products new life.