Children of the ‘80s and ‘90s can probably rattle off any number of food items that defined their young lives. From Bagel Bites and Chef Boyardee to Freeze Pops and Fruit by the Foot to Hot Pockets and Lunchables, this was a generation that embraced processed and microwavable foods.

Granted, the foods that spark nostalgia in Gen Xers and millennials may not be the healthiest, but that doesn’t mean they’re not due for a comeback with the current generation just hitting adulthood. Everything old is new, and Gen Z is embracing the end of the 20th century with fervor.

Of course, Gen Z also has its own ideas about how to improve the foods that dominated these decades. Rather than taking a nostalgic approach to consumption, Gen Z has leaned into “newstalgia” when it comes to adopting old trends. What is newstalgia, and how is it impacting the food industry?


What Is Newstalgia?

As the name implies, newstalgia uses nostalgic items to create something new. Whereas nostalgia relies heavily on sameness to recreate an experience in an identical format, newstalgia seeks to improve upon items of the past.

Although the term may be novel, the concept is not, especially not when it comes to food. Generation after generation has found ways to make old recipes better. Take, for example, the switch from lard to plant-based Crisco shortening in the early part of the 20th century.

At the time, it was seen as an economical alternative to animal products. Many decades later, when we began to understand the role trans fats play in heart disease, Crisco fell out of fashion with a push for heart-healthy alternatives like plant oils.

Today, Gen Z has taken an interest in popular foods from the ‘80s and ‘90s, likely due to parents sharing their own childhood favorites with their kids. However, Gen Z is looking not for faithful recreations but a new twist on the classics.


Related: Savory Cravings: Gen Z Edition


Making the Old New Again

There’s no denying the appeal of snack foods, but the younger generation is interested in options that are not only delicious but also healthy. The food industry has come a long way from the “health food” of old, with low-fat and “lite” options that notoriously held all the appeal of cardboard.

Today, plenty of food makers are looking to provide a decadent experience but with healthier ingredients and processes. One example is the Choco Taco. Children of the ‘80s are sure to remember this crunchy, frozen dessert, and Chef Henry Hill, working with the Almond Board of California, has crafted a version fit for the Gen Z market.

The new and improved Choco Taco features an almond flour shell that’s baked, not fried, and a soft-serve center made from an almond milk base. This version comes in at 170 calories to the 230 in the original Klondike version.

Bagel Bites have also gotten the glow-up treatment. Annie’s offers a version with organic and uncured ingredients, and there are recipes galore for keto and air fryer options.


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What Gen Z Consumers Want

Gen Z is an interesting market, primarily because they’re more interested in unique experiences than products, and the brands they choose must live up to expectations for diversity, eco-friendliness, and authenticity. When it comes to selling them nostalgic products, the interest is high, but the same old stuff just won’t do.

With an eye toward putting a modern spin on popular snacks from the ‘80s and ‘90s, particularly in terms of health-consciousness and sustainability, brands can make a splash in the Gen Z marketplace.


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