Martin Pasco
Martin Pasco is a Mintel Food & Drink Senior Global Analyst, monitoring and engaging with the latest innovations and market developments in Spirits and Wines, and some food categories.

COVID-19 has caused the world huge anxiety, and consumers have started to turn to foods to improve their mood. But what can meals, sides and seasonings offer in response? We explore how brands could make the most of this consumer demand by creating savoury comfort foods.

Consumers want to improve their emotional wellbeing

In challenging times, consumers will seek, often unconsciously, foods which enhance their mood. As Mintel research on emotional eating shows, over a tenth of US adults feel that their diet affects their emotional wellbeing, and over half of UK adults desire food that ‘makes them feel good now’. In fact, food is already something consumers associate with mood and wellbeing, as nearly half of Indian consumers snack to improve their mood. Hence, there is huge potential for mood-boosting foods and diets in the future.

Key into nostalgia via a return to classic dishes

Adults who feel anxious can turn to savoury foods from more simple times, such as their childhood. As consumers start cooking up their favourite childhood dishes, seasonings brands should flag their role in recreating classic dishes, which stressed consumers often turn to for comfort. The tastes and aromas of savoury food dishes could transport consumers back to a less stressful time in their lives. 

Seasonings and condiments are well-placed to ride the resurgent trend for scratch cooking. An increasing number of Brits are spending more time cooking at home during the lockdown, and this will continue as consumers reduce their spending on eating out during a downturn. Brands selling prepared meals could also be inspired by foodservice menu items using ‘traditional recipe’ to evoke nostalgia (for example, meat, sandwich and pizza dishes).

Although the execution of ‘comforting savoury food’ may differ between cultures, global consumers share a common emotional bond offered by treasured dishes from childhood, possibly made by parents or grandparents. These dishes will share some characteristics as well (such as a warming, creamy texture, carbohydrate-heavy, etc.). Below are some examples of brand innovations in this category.

Gourmet edition of the traditional British meat pie (UK)

Charlie Bigham – Steak and Ale Pie

Source: Mintel GNPD

Charlie Bigham’s Steak and Ale Pie is ready to cook and part of a range of gourmet pies. It is made from tender British steak slow cooked with smooth ale and a shake of Worcestershire sauce, topped with light, flaky puff pastry.

Recreate the flavours of your local street food (Singapore)

Boon Tong Kee – Chicken Rice Chilli Sauce 

Source: Boon Tong Kee 

This sauce was launched by a former street food vendor in Singapore and keys into the nostalgia of eating at a favourite kiosk when young. It is to be used as a dipping sauce for boiled chicken or for steamed items.

Deliveroo promises comfort with cheese burgers (UK)

‘Comfort food’ option on Deliveroo’s homepage

Source: Deliveroo

Takeout food delivery portal Deliveroo has mapped its homepage to segment user needs by moods or occasions, and these included comfort foods. The comfort food section is an entry point to local restaurants offering burgers and pizzas.

Appeal to health-conscious consumers by embracing better-for-you comfort food

As the pandemic focused consumer awareness on healthy diets and their link to stronger immune systems, the trend for healthy eating will continue to intensify, and brands will need to adapt to this demand. As consumers continue to feel anxious, the desire for comfort foods will remain. Brands could appeal to health-conscious consumers by providing healthier versions of savoury comfort foods.

In the long run, nostalgic foods will also need to be adjusted to reflect modern health consciousness. For example, vegetarian versions of classic nostalgic dishes can replicate some of the emotional benefits, whilst offering added value in terms of healthier plant-based ingredients.

Dirty vegan chicken nuggets (UK)

Squeaky bean – No Chicken Nuggets (UK)

 Source: Mintel GNPD

These vegan chicken nuggets are made with soya and wheat protein to offer nostalgic, convincing vegan junk food, aiming “to recreate those childhood favourites and give people the choice to eat something more indulgent”.

No additives and preservatives chicken curry (Thailand)

Takaso SC – Chicken Massaman Curry & Jasmine Rice 

Source: Mintel GNPD

Chicken Massaman Curry & Jasmine Rice from Takaso SC uses a chef’s recipe and is convenient and ready to eat anytime. This halal-certified ready meal is microwavable, contains no added MSG or preservatives and retails in a 260g pack.

Vegan feijoada (Brazil)

Vegabom – Vegan Feijoada

Source: Mintel GNPD

Vegabom, Vegan Feijoada is a 100% vegan product, and unlike the pork meat garnished original version, is made with non-GMO soy and contains no animal ingredients for a healthier indulgence.

What we think

Prepared meals, sides and seasonings brands are perfectly placed to provide comfort for already anxious consumers in an even more worrying world. The challenge will be for meals and sides brands to execute their role in offering emotional comfort to consumers. This might be through trial and error, whilst avoiding only making sales for the brand’s generic category.