How do flavor trends hold up during a pandemic?

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Nutritional Outlook, Volume 23, Issue 4

Flavor manufacturers work hard to accurately replicate nostalgic flavors-and consumers are buying.

While food is a necessity, purchasing food can also be a very emotional experience. Certain flavors can provide comfort, not just because they might taste good, but because they can bring back childhood or other fond memories. The idea of “comfort food” exists in every type of cuisine, often characterized by simplicity and indulgence. Flavor manufacturers work hard to accurately replicate nostalgic flavors, and consumers are all too happy to put them into their grocery cart, particularly now.

“Consumers want to connect to simpler, happier times through comfort foods and indulgent, nostalgic flavors,” says Sian Cunningham, marketing insights and strategy specialist for Kerry (Beloit, WI). “Reinventing classics and nostalgic favorites are ways to bring newness to products, but still keep them accessible and familiar. Through everything that’s going on in the world right now, consumers find comfort and even an emotional connection with nostalgic flavors across product categories.”

Nostalgic flavors have already been trending, according to Nutritional Outlook’s article “2020 Flavor Trends for Food and Beverage,”1 but with the current COVID-19 pandemic and shelter-in-place orders from state and local governments, consumers are stocking up on their indulgent favorites.

“During past periods of turmoil, financial downturn, and other crises, consumers have typically stocked up on pantry staples, and the data above shows this is still true. But, while austerity is being practiced by many, we’re also seeing an increase in purchases of nostalgic and indulgent food and beverage,” writes Lauren Piek, content marketing specialist for Kerry, in a blog post2. “Because many North American consumers are now in a restricted living state with no set end date, they’re also stocking up on indulgent products such as beer, soft drinks, chocolate, and wine.”

A number of other important flavor trends can still translate to these uncertain times. For example, in its 2020 Taste Charts, Kerry found that consumers want to enjoy the flavors of exotic locations through regional spices, herbs, and produce. Now, while travel is severely restricted, this desire to experience other cultures through food is particularly important. According to Cunningham, these flavors include “peppers with a provenance connection like Hatch, Calabrese, and Anaheim peppers, to the specific spice blends or pastes of a region, like harissa, togarashi, and sambal, but also fruits, spices, and herbs that are not traditionally found in America-like starfruit, dragon fruit, prickly pear, lemongrass, and sumac.”

For manufacturers, perhaps the best way to innovate and bring nostalgic or exotic flavors to consumers is through beverages and snacks. “Both [are] low-investment, low-risk categories that lend themselves as a good vehicle to new trends and trial,” explains Cunningham.


  1. Grebow J. “2020 Flavor Trends for Food and Beverage.” Nutritional Outlook, vol. 23, no. 1 (January/February 2020): 54-60
  2. Piek L. “Changing Consumer Preferences and Grocery Sales During COVID-19.” Kerry website. Published April 1, 2020. Accessed at: