The pandemic era has reinforced food and beverage trends like health, wellness and nostalgic indulgence. While contradictory at first glance, these behaviors are aligning as consumers redefine what constitutes “healthy” behavior.
Health and wellness are often approached as one idea, but wellness goes beyond fitness and nutrition, said Nik Modi, Managing Director of RBC Capital Markets in a recent Food Institute Podcast.
“It’s important for the industry to understand that there is this demarcation,” Modi said. “Well-being can take different forms.”
For example, the pandemic has expanded the concept to include moments of indulgence, which offer a break from daily stresses and environmental challenges.
“It’s really about this mental escape,” he added.
Additionally, eight in 10 Americans believe that physical health and emotional well-being are interconnected, said Anne-Marie Roerink, director and founder of 201 Analytics. food institute.
“Happiness, balance and general well-being are just as important [to consumers] than physical health and nutrition,” Roerink said. “Along with this premise, we see that traditional or nostalgic treats have a very unique role.”
Candy, for example, has a high level of permissions. According to the National Confectioners Association (NCA) Processing Status 2022 report, 78% of all adults think it’s perfectly okay to enjoy chocolate or candy once in a while.
But the word “treat” is the key. Portion control and smaller packaging are also a priority.
Candy, chocolate and gourmet snacks are not meal replacements and consumers in general understand that, said Roerink, co-author of the NCA report. “They are an integral part of celebrations, special occasions, holidays, get-togethers…or just to celebrate everyday life.”
Pockets of Indulgence
In 2021, U.S. confectionery sales reached an all-time high of $28.9 billion in the market as measured by IRI, with chocolate and non-chocolate sales combined increasing from 2020, but exceeding also the 2019 pre-pandemic normal.
Non-chocolate confectionery resumed its growth leadership role, with chewy candies and novelties recording the largest gains alongside seasonal items, which benefited from increased consumer mobility.
Chocolate sales also remained strong with notable unit sales increases in sugar-free varieties (+21.4%) and gift sets (+9.5%).
As Roerink notes, giving and sharing are also part of well-being. The impact of the pandemic on gatherings with loved ones has amplified this value.
“In all these [social] occasions, treats play a key role,” Roerink said. “They’re rooted in tradition and emotional well-being, whether it’s taking care of yourself or caring for others.”
Frozen treats have also seen an increase in sales, reported Supermarket News.
NielsenIQ data showed frozen novelty sales increased 5.9% for the 52 weeks ending January 1, 2022, to approximately $6.2 billion across all retail outlets, including convenience stores.
Household penetration has also increased, driven by millennial consumers who are long-time customers, as well as an increase in demand among Gen Z.
Novelties and pint-sized ice creams allow consumers to try new flavors and offer a small dose of self-indulgence, said Marc Nosal, commercial director of dairy for UNFI Brands+, in the same item. “We are seeing more and more consumers enjoying a few bites of ice cream in a pint or eating a little novelty ice cream more regularly.”
Reinventing comfort food
In times of pandemic indulgence, many consumers have also turned to comfort foods and favorite childhood snacks. Since then, nostalgic treats and snacks — many with modern twists that use higher-quality or better-for-you ingredients — have gained traction.
In fact, brands that reimagine comfort foods and inspire nostalgia were a notable exhibitor trend at Natural Products Expo West 2022.
“During difficult times, we often see people retreating to the familiar,” Roerink said. “But at the same time, we saw a tremendous amount of experimentation in just about every category in the store.”
Innovation has been particularly strong in the field of confectionery.
In interviews, shoppers tell Roerink they look forward to when the chores are done, the kids are in bed, and they can sit on the couch, relax, and enjoy a little piece of chocolate. “Others say their workout at the gym is just as important to them as the five minutes of Zen time to enjoy a candy bar they bought at the checkout,” she added.
Eric Viergutz, managing director of City National Bank, echoed those sentiments in the FI Podcastadding that he believes health, wellness and indulgence can co-exist – as long as consumers continue to prioritize active and balanced lifestyles.
“I think this idea that you can’t eat this kind of comfort food is going out the window,” Viergutz said. “In moderation, there’s nothing unhealthy about that.”