The Specialty Food Association (SFA) Trendspotter Panel meets every year to review thousands of specialty food products. They also identify the trends uniting the most popular new comfort food flavors. Comfort food trends were announced this past October by SFA's Vice President Denise Purcell, who said SFA identified nine trends in the items reviewed. We spotlight five of those trends below.
Convenience Is King
As consumers return to the hustle and bustle of everyday life they have less time to do food prep and cook. This is leading to a shifted focus on ease. “Brands will focus on helping consumers go simple in their preparation and cooking routines, and assure would-be cooks that taking shortcuts is nothing to be ashamed of,” says Melanie Bartelme.
Environmentally Friendly Foods
While convenience is the largest driving trend in consumer choices, sustainability is a very close second. As environmental concerns escalate globally, consumers are looking for ways to do their part while feeding themselves. “With growing unrest over climate issues and their impact on the future food supply, products that feature some aspect of sustainable ingredients, upcycled ingredients, or environment-friendly packaging, are leading the way,” says Jonathan Deutsch.
Vegetarian and vegan alternatives to meat products continue to grow more popular, and people are starting to look for similar options when shopping for seafood. “The awareness of the meatless category is driving consumers to look for alternatives in seafood, too. Key to acceptance is aligning nutritional values, texture, and flavor to those of traditional fish,” says Patsy Ramirez-Arroyo
Health In Balance
Consumers are seeking more middle-ground when it comes to having a diet that either focuses more on indulgence or healthy living. We can easily see brands playing on "comfort food with a twist" that promises a level of comfort while still supporting a healthy lifestyle.
“Better-for-you snacks like dehydrated vegetables or mushroom chips continue to dominate,” said Lindsay Leopold.
Pantry Without Borders
Kitchen staples are starting to look different according to SFA. Traditional comfort foods are now available as condiments, oils, sauces, and seasonings have become available and known to the everyday consumer looking to add a sense of adventure to their cooking.
"Shared through the memory, influence, and multi-generational heritage of immigrants, this wave of texture and flavor offers complex, nuanced blends of herbs, spice, specialty chiles, fruit, rich nuts and seeds, and punches of umami,” says Victoria Ho.
In 2023, the consumer palette's desire for boldness and intensity has increased. There is a broader range of spice levels where only two categories that once existed, simply called "hot" or "not." The modern consumer knows what they want, and brands have responded with products with a broader range of heat levels.
“What began in the hot sauce category is exploding into honey, spreads, confections, beverages, and snacks, snagging new markets like younger consumers, especially, and inspiring specialty food companies to introduce heat and spice into existing product lines,” says Mikel Cirkus.
These are just a few of the fun and exciting comfort food trends coming to our dining habits this year.
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