While cities and towns around the United States are at various stages of opening, nearly half of consumers report they are still avoiding going out to eat.
As the pandemic stretches on, the kitchen continues to be an outlet for consumers to explore food and drink. Trends like sourdough and whipped coffee jumped off consumers’ Instagram feeds and into their kitchen, proving that food is the ultimate comfort. No season speaks to comfort foods quite like fall, and as consumers settle into routines and find their new normal, grocery stores can help fill a void in consumer cravings once satisfied by restaurants. Satisfying those cravings means creating restaurant-worthy innovations to excite shoppers.
Take comfort, but make it interesting
Fall is more than pumpkin-palooza, and pandemic fatigue brings a desire for some familiar traditions like game day, back to school and of course the holidays. Stock up trips go hand-in-hand with these occasions as consumers search the virtual and physical aisles to create the perfect menu at home.
Wings are a game day staple, and the flavor combinations are endless. They can play host to on-trend sweet and savory flavor mash ups like sriracha honey or pair with a creamy dipping sauce with a bit of heat like chipotle ranch. What is more, these flavors work well with a range of apps including plant-forward options. Make it easy for consumers to build the perfect game day platter to satisfy their restaurant wing cravings.
Americans have spent a lot of time cooking and preparing their own meals, and classic comfort food heroes like mac and cheese or pizza may not feel as exciting right now. Fusing seasonal comfort foods with a hint of indulgence, an unexpected global twist or a premium element can help consumers get out of their food rut. When in doubt, add bacon! This savory element is growing on restaurant dessert menus in items like cupcakes and donuts, as well as pasta and pizza dishes.
New routines open up opportunities
Routines have helped consumers stay grounded as the pandemic upends many areas of life. Right now, nearly two in five Americans are navigating new school routines with just over half figuring out full-time remote learning. This means new lunch routines for students and caregivers. Now the lunch occasion creates new opportunities for hot meals for remote learners.
The number one thing caregivers are looking for now that their kids are learning at home are convenient meal options that are both kid and adult friendly. Upper income households report being the most stressed about lunch time meal options. Premium heat and eat or refrigerated meal components are one less thing to worry about for these households.
Whether it is a morning pumpkin smoothie, leftovers for lunch or a slow cooked comfort food, food is an essential part of daily routines. Curious consumers have pushed restaurants to experiment and create the next spicy fried chicken, breakfast sandwich build or rainbow-colored food. The pandemic pivot has prompted even more consumer experimentation with both restaurants and at home. Now they are turning to new restaurants for delivery of dishes they do not feel like making at home and there is a renewed focus on retail for trend discovery. Whether you are on the foodservice or retail side of the business, now is the time for extreme innovation.
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Jamie Howe is a director at Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis and concept testing for the food industry.
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