Consumers redefine comfort food

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 13th August 2009

Ageing Boomers and diverse Gen Yers are finding new ways to fulfill their comfort food cravings, according to the latest Generational Comfort Food Culinary Trend Mapping Report from America.

The report, co-published by the Center for Culinary Development (CCD) and Packaged Facts, confirms that consumers are passionate about their comfort foods, many of which stem from childhood favourites. In today’s changing food world, however, these dishes are evolving in sync with new values and lifestyles.

“Childhood comfort food is getting a make-over according to who’s eating it,” CCD CEO Kimberly Egan remarked. “Each generation has different needs and tastes, including more healthful fare, gourmet ingredients and bolder flavours, which are reflected in their go-to comfort foods.”

While the survey showed that the overall food category preferred by all ages was sweets, individual responses revealed a more nuanced generational portrait of comfort food preferences. For example, while many participants craved chicken soup, Gen Yers also turned to Vietnamese pho. Gen Xers gravitate to beloved branded foods while Boomers are skewing premium but keeping an eye on health.

Three overarching trends were picked up from the comfort food preferences of those surveyed:

Contemporary quality
All three generational cohorts are seeking higher quality food experiences and these are surfacing in updated versions of old favourites. Today’s pies are farmers’ market fresh; new leaner meats appear in meatloaf; casseroles are loaded with seasonal vegetables; and mac ‘n’ cheese arrives with gourmet twists. Additional upgrades include fresh herbs and exotic spices, artisan cheeses, and natural and organic ingredients.

The new diversity
Although Boomers have a decided taste for exotic flavours, diverse Generation Y is truly adopting global comfort dishes like Vietnamese beef noodle soup (pho), sushi, and Indian and Thai curries. In addition to these new comfort meals, global flavours are enhancing comfort classics.

Balanced eating
Boomers and Gen Xers are trying to balance indulgent comfort foods with more healthful versions using fresh vegetables, sustaining whole grains and leaner meats. Gen Y grew up learning nutrition basics and now craves fresh fruit for a healthful burst and cheese in all forms for a protein and flavour boost.

As a result, opportunities abound for food marketers to create enticing, up-to-date versions of the comfort foods every generation passionately craves, according to the report.