For the better part of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has been throwing off everything, including winter holidays and delayed family celebrations together, but that doesn’t mean consumers aren’t still searching out the best, most comforting foods of the year for the holidays to help them get through this tough time.

In fact, now more than ever are people in need of a little boost through some of their favorite dishes and drinks. This year, innovation meets nostalgia with some of the top trending menu items and packaged foods providing new twists on classics to appeal both comfort and adventure seekers this holiday season.

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What’s Old is New Again

Tradition is the name of the game when it comes to holiday favorites, and this year, packaged food brands are bringing back the 1920s to the 2020s to get straight to the heart of seasonal celebrations, according to a report from Mintel. They also appeal to the nostalgia for a “simpler time” many are feeling during this tough year. Dainty finger sandwiches are back on the shelves, featuring fillings like fish, seafood, meat, and cream cheese, and are a perfect light appetizer before a more filling holiday dinner.

For dessert, pineapple upside-down cakes, popularized in the ‘20s, are making a comeback and are a different alternative to heavy pies or spice cakes. Cocktails featuring sparkling wine, a popular drink during the Prohibition Era, are also gaining popularity, especially pre-mixed and canned. These are easy to drink and make at home without all of the required ingredients for those of us missing cozy winter nights out at the bar; this is also trend we saw rising in the summertime, particularly with spiked seltzers, and continues to dominate alcohol sales as more variety to appeal to all seasons is added.

Meatless Meals

The consumer shopping trends have shown meat consumption has gone down during the pandemic and with families opting for smaller celebrations this year, it doesn’t make sense to buy large portions of meat to feed fewer people. This along with a more health-conscious population means there may be less meat on the table but not fewer options for amazing alternative dishes as replacements. The market for plant-based meat is larger and more sophisticated than ever, with options of ground or shaped “beef” and other soy or vegan alternatives that mimic the look and taste of meat beyond what used to be only tofu-based shapeless options.

But not all families are interested in a meat alternative and instead look to produce with squash becoming this year’s star at the center of the plate. Stuffed squash filled with festive, hearty ingredients like chestnuts, lentils, and quinoa baked together in the oven makes a filling, delicious entrée that provides all of the same comforting traditional holiday flavors without the meat.

RELATED: Winter Flavors from 5 Holiday Markets Around the World

Making Dinner Easier with Meal Kits

Holiday dinners are going to look a lot different this year with fewer people gathered around the table and less reason to go shopping for all of the ingredients needed to make a complicated meal. Consumers still want to keep the traditional Winter Holiday dinners alive, which is where meal kits come in to save the day. This year is all about finding ways to cause less stress and make things a little easier, so brands are packaging up innovative meals of entrees and sides with a DIY feel to lessen the pressure on households while still incorporating a homecooked-meal-feel to the dinner. These can be found through subscription services online or private labels on shelf offering a range of meal options, including beef wellington, turkey dinner with all the trimmings, lasagna and salad, and even honey ham with scalloped potatoes and apple crisp for dessert. These allow families to tailor their dinners to smaller crowds while also experimenting with new dishes that they hadn’t considered a “holiday” dinner before and move away from what have been considered traditional meals in previous years.

Sophisticated Advent Calendars

In addition to meals having a twist this year, gifting is also going through an evolution with the influx of food and drinks brands introducing more adult edible advent calendars to bring a little fun to the season. As we have reported previously, consumers are attracted to adventure and mystery in their food options, and advent calendars bring both along with playfulness. While chocolate advent calendars are a mainstay, other featuring savory snacks or designed to fit certain diets are entering the market as well to appeal to more adult consumers. Calendars featuring mystery alcohol, like wine and craft beer, are rising in popularity, especially with the increase in alcohol sales due to COVID-19. These are a fun way to try new flavors and types, and if families are staying home, they are more likely to try something new and buy these “gifts” as treat for themselves as opposed to bringing a simple table wine to a larger celebration to appeal to everyone.

This series is backed by our Seasonality Initiative where we help our customers develop pipelines of new concepts and flavor ideas for the seasons and major occasions like the Winter Holidays.

When most folks think of seasonality it’s normally in preparation of Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall; but when consumers, more specifically foodies, think of seasonality it is usually in anticipation of pumpkin spice lattes or breast cancer pink cookies. At Symrise we are constantly looking for ways to innovate and that means going beyond the scope of normal. It also means not only looking for inspiration within, but outside of the box — our box being the food and beverage space.

If you have questions or would like to learn more about our initiative please contact us.

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