As comfort foods evolve, so do generational differences

Articles
August 12, 2009

As comfort foods evolve, so do generational differences

How do you classify the role of the foods you sell? Or even the ones you eat yourself? Have you thought about how specific items might mean ‘comfort,’ ‘indulgence’ or ‘health’ to you, but could connote entirely different sets of values to people from younger or older generations?

How do you classify the role of the foods you sell? Or even the ones you eat yourself? Have you thought about how specific items might mean ‘comfort,’ ‘indulgence’ or ‘health’ to you, but could connote entirely different sets of values to people from younger or older generations?

The Center for Culinary Development and Packaged Facts issued the Generational Comfort Foods trend mapping report, and found subtle rather than dramatic differences in comfort food preferences across different age groups. Why examine this now? First, to see if, during economic turmoil, Boomers and their Generation Y offspring turn to the same foods for comfort, the researchers said. Second, to see which foods Generation Xers turn to for themselves and their children amid many healthful choices and global flavors. Third, to determine the role venerable food brands play in the way different generations define comfort food.

Before exploring the generational differences, it’s key to know the overarching trends that comfort foods are evolving along with “consumers’ tastes and values [and] health goals and personal/professional lifestyles,” CCD and PF said. Framing the changes are:
•    Food quality comes in new shapes and sizes today, sometimes customized to each generation.
•    A new diversity means it’s not just Generation Y adopting comfort foods from other cultures.
•    Balanced eating reflects new food choices for today’s consumers.
These are reflected in certain behaviors today, the researchers noted:
•    Consumers of all ages are enjoying sweet breakfast foods in after-dinner slots.
•    Chefs are updating meat loaf with new meats, new global flavorings and new forms.
•    Inspired bakers re-do pie with fresher, more seasonal fillings and exotic twists.
•    Many consumers find comfort in Pho/Vietnamese beef noodle soup.
•    Aromatic and satisfying Indian and Thai curry dishes have drawn a broad fan base.
•    Today’s casseroles are fresher and more healthful with lighter fillings and more seasonal vegetables.
•    Mac and cheese gets creative twists and healthful supplementation.

Against this backdrop, the study found top-line, according to a MediaPost Marketing Daily account, that:
•    Boomers prefer braised meats, casseroles and ice cream, as well as high-end choices of dark chocolate and artisan cheeses. Foods that evoke childhood memories (peanut butter, popcorn, oatmeal) also comfort them.
•    Generation Xers go for burgers, burritos, and branded packaged treats (cookies, candies, snacks and ice cream).
•    Generation Y top their comfort list with burritos and ramen noodles, as well as healthier sushi and fruits. They are less brand-driven with respect to comfort foods than Generation X.

There’s a twofold lesson in this research for CPG marketers and retailers: Update offers to reflect today’s new comfort food trends and international influences. And be smart, specific and targeted when communicating about their brands and selections to the different generations to gather many more hits than misses.