How newstalgia blends comfort and novelty in the snack category

By Deniz Ataman

- Last updated on GMT

Image source: Getty/Shannon Toth
Image source: Getty/Shannon Toth

Related tags Snacks

Consumers still crave familiar flavors and experiences, as they did during the pandemic, but they also are open to new innovations and technologies -- leading to an emerging trend of 'newstalgia,' Kevin Ryan, CEO, Malachite Strategy and Research, explained to FoodNavigator-USA.

Inspired by interior design and fashion, “newstalgia” blends together vintage and contemporary design elements. Within the snacking category, it’s a fusion of familiar snack brands with new flavors and formats, Ryan noted.

From re-emerging retro brands like Bonomo Turkish Taffy and Necco wafters and updated familiar snacks with functional benefits like Snickers Hi Protein bars to leveraging recognizable flavors and formats like Apple Jacks-flavored Pop-Tarts, snack innovation pulls from the past to engage consumers’ emotions while keeping them on their toes with new technologies, ingredients and formats.

“There’s this tension about, ‘Should I try something new?’ and I think what newstalgia does is it allows you to get some of that innovation that you want as a consumer but still get something safe,” Ryan said.

"All snacks have an emotional resonance"

Since the pandemic, consumers turned to products that provided a sense of comfort, safety and familiarity, reflecting a time of unparalleled uncertainty and instability, Ryan said.

“All [snacks] have an emotional resonance,” he added.

While health was an important focus for consumers, they were also allowing themselves to indulge on their favorite meals and snacks. Comfort foods like soups, stews and stuffed vegetables, and snacks like chips and candy created a sense of home, warmth, stability and tradition.

Newstalgia reflects consumers’ interest in new ingredients, technologies and formats in their favorite familiar products. For brands, this could look like reimagining popular snacks or collaborating with other brands to expand their presence to a wider audience.

Tapping into the Millennial fan favorite cartoon, Sponge Bob Squarepants, Kraft-Heinz collaborated with Nickelodeon to develop its Mac & Cheese in Sponge Bob Squarepants shapes. The company also launched its line of frozen, microwavable Lunchables Crispy Grilled Cheesies which uses its proprietary 360CRISP platform to mimic stove-top worthy browned and crispy toasted bread.

Mars Wrigley’s launch of Skittles Littles caters to Gen Z preferences for familiarity and convenience with mini Skittles in a plastic, portable tube. While its M&M’s Caramel Cold Brew merges the classic candy with the coffee category, featuring caramel and coffee flavors.

Known for a variety of sweet and salty flavors, Chex Mix honed in on comfort food flavors with the release of its flavors, Cheezy Pizza made of garlic and herb chex, pizza crust bagel chips, cheese puffs and pizza sauce chex; and Zesty Taco, which features taco seasoned chex, corn shell chips, cheese pups and salsa chex, creating a textural experience younger generations seek.

Brand collaborations also drove the newstalgia trend this year with the launch of Van Holten’s WarHeads Extreme Sour Pickles.

On the sweet side, marshmallow maker, Stuffed Puffs released its collaboration with General Mills’ Cinnamon Toast Crunch, filling the puffs with the familiar cereal flavor.

Blending sweet, spicy and savory, Jack Links launched its Doritos Spicy Sweet Chili Beef jerky and Flamin’ Hot Original, highlighting how brand collaborations can expand an audience bases and bridge the gap between two familiar brands.

"No one wants 100% new"

Ryan noted that culturally, consumers have access to the past through technology – creating a stronger connection to products that resonated with them at different points in their lives. Similarly for brands, newstalgia creates an opportunity to reintroduce content and campaigns that can invigorate their presence online again.

“We are constantly given a window to our past every time we open up our phone. I think that changes our relationship to nostalgia. And I think a lot of brands are playing on that a little it … like how they interact on social media or how they talk about themselves on social media. It’s like resurfacing past content and past campaigns because people remember those things.”

For Millennials and Gen Z generations who are growing up during a time of digital hyperconnectivity and significant cultural, sociopolitical and environmental shifts, the newstalgia trend is more pervasive as these consumers are seeking a gradual progression towards innovation that is still grounded in comfort, Ryan noted.

For companies, innovation is essential in growing business, and through a newstalgic lens, launching familiar products in new flavors and formats captures that interest in “new” without the significant risk.

“No one wants 100% new but I think it’s the balance that we are at—the 50/50 new and old versus 10/90. It’s because of the uncertainty and trepidation that most people have, especially the newer, younger generations,” he added.

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