Comfort Food Coming Back
By Tom Ryan
Due to a combination
of rising food prices and recessionary belt-tightening, comfort foods appear
to be making a comeback as consumers take a back-to-basics approach to
According to an article
in the Chicago Tribune,
"comfort food" refers to classic brands such as Kraft’s Macaroni
Velveeta Cheese and Hormel’s Chili and its Dinty Moore brand stews. All those
brands posted double-digit sales growth during its most recent quarter, according
to Nielsen data covering the 13 weeks ended Nov. 1.
Cooking from scratch
is also seeing an increase, "elevating the humble pot roast to the
hero of the hour in many kitchens," according to the Trib.
Reflecting that trend, Nielsen data shows that Americans are cutting back
on frozen prepared foods and prepared deli items while buying more white
flour and dried beans.
"Good old basic
food seems to be doing pretty well," said Todd Hale, senior vice president,
consumer & shopper insights, at Nielsen.
Some believe that part
of the reason that comfort food may be appealing more is because people
are looking for memories of happier times inside the recessionary climate.
But the overriding factor appears to be because it’s less expensive to buy
many of these items as well as to cook at home.
Prior to the housing
crisis and economic downturn, Americans were looking for
"fancier, more convenient foods," helping drive deli items and
pricier prepared dishes. Krista Faron, a food trends analyst at Mintel International,
also said "experimentation" with food was driving cooking trends,
but now, "experimentation is no longer driving things. Comfort is more
Adam Drewnowski, director
of the University of Washington’s Center for Obesity Research, said that
for many people, comfort foods include basics like eggs, dried beans, lean
ground beef, turkey and soups.
According to Nielsen
data, sales trends were relatively strong last fall for eggs, despite a
big price run-up. Sales of peanut butter, considered "another good-for-you
comfort food," were up considerably this fall compared with a year
earlier. Fresh meat is one of the few supermarket categories tracked by
Nielsen that experienced consistently rising unit sales from July through
"People have an
innate perception of what are [affordable] nutrient-rich foods,"
Mr. Drewnowski said.
From a pure health perspective,
the downside of comfort foods is that many are packed with carbohydrates,
fat or sodium.
"There has been
some discussion that consumers will be eating a little less healthy," Nielsen’s
Mr. Hale told the Trib.
How do you think consumers’ food choices are changing with the recession
and rising commodity prices? Do you also see this shift toward "comfort"