Consumers will seek comfort and escape through food to balance economic, political uncertainty in 2018

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Consumers will seek comfort, escape from food  in 2018

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Next year, Americans will seek food that comforts them and helps them escape from reality as the unpredictable political climate, wobbly economy and emotionally draining natural disasters that impacted so many in 2017 continue to create a sense of uncertainty, predict trendologists with Andrew Freeman & Co.

“Everyone is feeling a little unsure”​ about the economy, the political landscape and future of America given all the upheaval of 2017, and that is reflected in consumers’ changing shopping habits, Andrew Freeman, the restaurant and hospitality consultancy’s founder, said during a recent presentation online.

He explained that the changing economic, political and social factors are “going to affect us all from a cultural point of view”​ and are coming so fast that hotels and restaurants – which often influence trends in packaged goods – will need to “adjust as the world adjusts”​ in order to stay relevant to consumers.

One of the ways that this “craziness”​ will impact consumers’ food choices is it will drive them to choose nostalgic and comfort foods, Freeman predicts.

“Millennials are growing up and because the world is complicated, we are looking back at nostalgic cuisine”​ from a simpler time, he explained.

For example, cookie dough, gummy bears, Pop Rocks, Cheetos and Fruity Pebbles are making a come-back, as are stereotypical “kids’ food,”​ such as chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese, he said.

But at the same time, Freeman said, consumers can’t ignore everything they have learned about the connection between health and their diet, so the versions of comfort food they are reaching for will be elevated and better-for-you.

Hip Chick’s chicken nuggets made with clean ingredients and from animal cared for at a higher standard of welfare, are one example, Freeman said. Another is the inclusion of Pop Rocks in antioxidant-rich dark chocolate.

Pizza also will see a lift from consumers desire for comfort from their food, but like the other categories there will still be plenty of options in the style of crust and the quality of toppings, Freeman said.

Consumers hold themselves & brands to higher standards

Consumers who are unable to stop the changes in the world around them also might try to find a sense of control by adopting diets that meet strict – and reliable – standards, such as vegan and kosher, Freeman predicts.

As such, restaurants and hotels will need to embrace a wider variety of vegetable-based dishes, such as jackfruit tacos, hominy ceviche and rotisserie cauliflower. These trends already are trickling into CPGs, such as through Upton Naturals marinated jackfruit options or the broader use of cauliflower as the base for pizza crusts and plant-based “wings”​ in the frozen aisle.

Consumer attraction to traditional Jewish deli options, such as smoked fish, pickled herring, chopped liver and matzo ball soup also will influence CPGs, he said. Indeed, many players in the packaged space are increasingly seeking out Kosher certification as an extension of this trend and recognition of the heightened consumer need.

Another area where consumers’ higher expectation is apparent is in their growing concern for reducing food waste, Freeman said.

“Everyone is talking trash these day!”​ he quipped while pointing to influencers such as celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s documentary Wasted! The Story of Food Waste​. Several CPG brands are stepping into the space as well, such as Misfit Juicery, which uses ugly fruits, vegetables and “scraps” from food service to create their juices.

Food as an escape

Even as consumers respond to the change around them by turning inward, they also are looking for escape, which is reflected in their ongoing embrace of multicultural foods from around the world.

In the coming year, Freeman predicts that food from Mexico and China in particular will see a lift.

Finally, he says, consumers will look for lighthearted fun through color – prompting a longer-term rainbow trend than maybe initially predicted.

This trend includes Instagram-worthy edible flowers, millennial pink chocolate, purple carrots and jet-black charcoal lemonade, he said.

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