During the pandemic, consumers turned to their favorite comfort foods in a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty. Now, the role of comfort food has shifted—and consumers are finding new ways to enjoy these classic dishes. Research shows that while consumers are trying to incorporate more healthful meals into their diets, they have no desire to give up their favorites. In fact, 82% of consumers admit to indulging in comfort foods once a week, if not more. Combined with demand for spicy flavors, global cuisine and plant-based options, it’s clear that signature takes on nostalgic dishes can reinvigorate the comfort category.
Something to consider is the fact that “comfort food” means different things to different people. When asked what comes to mind, most U.S. consumers find American food comforting, in addition to the global cuisines that may match their culture or ethnicity. Millennials and Gen Z are more likely than older generations to find comfort when eating Mexican, Japanese, and Korean cuisines.
While there may not be a single definition of comfort food, common threads include the feeling of satiety and the emotional association with a particular dish. For operators, innovation may come in the form of “grown-up” versions of childhood favorites, infusing bold ingredients into everything from casseroles to meat loaf.
Taking inspiration from authentic global cuisines is another winning approach, especially considering that comfort classics like dumplings, stews and pastas can be found around the world. Memorable flavor stories will ensure that the comfort trend endures, no matter what lies ahead!
TWO Easy Ways to Differentiate Classic Comfort Food Dishes
Comfort foods are predicted to grow 31% on U.S. menus through 2027.
Comfort Food Megatrends
FUTURE FRIED FAVORITES
Fried foods are often associated with comfort and many global and regional versions are slowly gaining traction. Breaded cutlets in fried chicken sandwiches are being replaced with global iterations like katsu and schnitzel.
NEW BAR FOODS
Fried foods have their moment of being comforting classics and there are many new global fried foods beginning to be offered as bar & grill appetizers such as empanadas, arancini, and more.
For many there are few things desired as much as tacos or burritos when the need for comfort food hits. New fillings for those classics (birria) as well as new dishes from Mexican cuisine continue to inspire.
SUNDAY DINNER STAPLES
Stews, meatloaf, pot roast, and other longer cooked dishes are supper favorites and are comfort food for many.
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The slow food movement promotes local food and traditional cooking. Many comfort food trends relate to this including handmade noodles, pastas, and dumplings as well as long braised meats.
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Chicken noodle soup is a classic comfort food for when one is sick, but soup overall is comforting with global renditions, such as ramen, being especially comforting for younger consumers.
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Southern classics come to mind immediately such as biscuits and gravy, mac & cheese, chicken biscuit sandwiches, but also look to other regions with Southwest chile verde, Chicago’s Italian beef sandwiches, all sorts of cheesy goodness from Wisconsin, and other regional favorites.
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From baked Italian casseroles like lasagna and baked penne to home-cook favorites like tuna noodle casserole and chicken divan, casseroles can always find new life with innovative fillings.
#ComfortFood encompasses over 11.5 million Instagram posts, with mouth-watering closeups of creamy soups, rich curries and stews, crispy fried chicken, heaping portions of risotto and more. Exploring this tag is a great way to take a deeper dive into authentic comfort foods found all around the world.
At Custom Culinary®, we are passionate about creating delicious food that is healthy, sustainable and nutritious. In a time when consumers are seeking comfort, we’re working with our customer partners to develop products and dishes with a healthier twist. The addition of nutrient-dense ingredients or simple substitutions can put a nourishing spin on comfort foods that are typically associated with indulgence.
Three in four consumers believe taste is the most important quality for comfort food, followed by price.
Consumers’ preferred comfort foods are simple, decadent, and they rarely change. When in need, most are more likely to reach for storebought cookies or order pizza instead of preparing a home-cooked meal.
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Datassential, Comfort Food Defined, February 2023
Datassential, The World of Comfort Food, September 2023
Datassential FLAVOR, 2023.
Datassential MenuTrends, U.S. menu penetration growth 2019-2023.
Instagram, #comfortfood accessed December 5, 2023.