Nostalgia in the Food & Beverage Space

November 4, 2021
Trends Innovation Nostalgia
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What takes you straight back to your childhood? For many people it’s the taste or smell of a favorite snack or meal, and many of us are increasingly likely to seek out those familiar flavors in the foods and beverages we consume today. Nostalgia has been booming in the culinary world and on grocery shelves globally, both in the products and flavors themselves and their marketing. In fact, 71% of U.S. consumers enjoy things that remind them of their childhood. From throwback flavors reminiscent of happy times to vintage product reintroductions and more, let’s take a look at what’s trending in this space.

Talking 'Bout My Generation

Nostalgic for the ‘90s

Whether you’re looking at fashion or food right now, one thing is clear: the ‘90s are back in a big way. It makes sense: millennials who grew up in the ‘90s have faced a tumultuous introduction into “adult” life and are looking back to their childhood as a time of fun and comfort. In fact, Mintel reports that 76% of people ages 22 - 55 enjoy things that remind them of the past, more than any other age group, whereas Gen Z is least likely to show interest, making the ‘90s the perfect blend of nostalgia for millennials and something fun and new to the younger generation.

Don’t Forget the Forgotten Generation

Millennials aren’t the only one who are interested in all things vintage, though: 69% of people ages 45 - 64 and 70% of those over 65 also love things that remind them of the past. Targeting these markets, who are currently being left out of much of the nostalgia boom, could be a good way for brands to connect with a wider demographic.

Products of Note

Kool-Aid Retro Jammers Rock-A-Dile Red Artificially Flavored Drink contains 55% less sugar than leading regular sodas and is said to be an excellent source of vitamin C.

41% of consumers responded that they likely or definitely would buy this product.

Janie’s Pie Crust Cookies combine two favorite nostalgic items into one easily portable snack. Coming in a variety of flavors including pecan, chocolate, and apple, this new spin on dessert is called “life-changing” because the company also provides aid to people experiencing homelessness and addiction.

Pepsi-Cola Soda Shop Cream Soda Cola is flavored with natural and artificial flavors and is described as a tasty cream soda flavored cola made with real sugar for a sweet nostalgic treat.

37% of consumers responded that they likely or definitely would buy this product.

Campbell's SpaghettiOs Original Pasta in Tomato and Cheese Sauce has been repackaged with a retro label. The microwaveable product is described as neat, round spaghetti-Os that can be eaten with a spoon.

43% of consumers responded that they likely or definitely would buy this product


Taking it Back

Whatever their generation,  there are a few things that consumers are searching for when they turn to the past.

  • Feelings of comfort and safety

  • Familiarity, particularly during the uncertainty of Covid-19

  • Enjoyment: 71% of US consumers say that they enjoy things that remind them of their past.

Even though nostalgia is a powerful way to connect with consumers, there are some things that brands must keep in mind to maximize success with nostalgic introductions.

  • Nostalgic items and campaigns should try to be reflective of a diverse group of consumers.

  • Tapping into universal feelings like comfort and safety helps people who aren’t part of the “past” in that they’re able to be celebrated and feel connected to the nostalgia even if they haven’t experienced it.

“[The nostalgia] trend is also growing beyond ‘American’ staples. Plenty of brands you’d find in the ‘ethnic’ food section — a term being mercifully killed off by millennials — are cashing in on the ‘90s nostalgia craze.” - Inside Hook

Products of Note

Omsom seasoning starter packets span a range of Asian dishes, from Vietnamese Lemongrass BBQ to Filipino Sisig. Each packet contains everything a cook needs to season a dish that will taste just like what Grandma used to make.

Koala’s March cookies might be better known to ‘90s kids as Koala Yummies, the crispy snack from Japan stuffed with a sweet filling. Millennials still go crazy for these cookies, which are available at specialty stores and online.

Post Birthday Cake Pebbles Sweetened Rice Cereal with Birthday Cake Flavor is now available in the 50th birthday collector's edition. The kosher certified product is naturally and artificially flavored and is free from gluten.

40% of consumers responded that they likely or definitely would buy this product.

Chameleon Cold-Brew Gingersnap Organic Oat Milk Latte is a limited edition product described as the nostalgic flavor of gingersnap cookies adding a taste of the holidays, made using the premium organic coffee beans, carefully roasted to deliver low acid and super smooth coffee.

21% of consumers responded that they likely or definitely would buy this product.

The New Nostalgia

Research shows that people are willing to pay a premium for nostalgic products, making them a great fit for the premiumization trend that the market is currently experiencing. But brands can’t just slap some neon lettering on their packaging and expect customers to follow –– new nostalgia campaigns for already-established brands should utilize great taste and innovation and technology to connect with younger digital native consumers. To make sure that campaigns are resonating across multiple demographics, brands can use music or revitalize products that older generations can connect to and combine it with forward-thinking digital campaigns.

Offerings of Note:

Dunkaroos - Many millennials will remember Dunkaroos, the portable kangaroo cookie-and-frosting packs, from their elementary school lunches. They were discontinued in the US in 2012 but in 2020 the brand made a comeback, and now they’re taking it to the next level with the release of Dunkaroos NFTs. These ‘90s-themed “New Frosting Tokens” are pieces of digital art that fans can bid on, with all proceeds going to Feeding America.

Pizza Hut - The Pizza Hut “Newstalgia” campaign is all about combining the old with the new. Consumers that are hungry for a taste of childhood can now relive the experience of visiting the restaurant and playing arcade games using just their phone: the new Pizza Hut boxes turn into an augmented-reality Pac-Man game when viewed through a phone screen.
 “In this adaptation of nostalgia marketing, consumers crave novelty and playfulness more than true accuracy and replication. Historically a no-go under nostalgia best practice, this shift gives brands and marketers the opportunity to put their own unique spin on old products, driven more by inspiration than authenticity.” - Mintel

Nostalgia and Functional Foods

Nostalgia can also be easily incorporated into current functional and better-for-you food trends as a way of bringing a modern twist to nostalgic items or flavors. When speaking to Inside Hook about nostalgic, Mike McVicar, founder of design and branding agency Gander, said, “the new normal is baseline organic … it’s whole foods and non-GMO and low sugar.” Nostalgia may get you noticed by millennial consumers, but they won’t stick around if the product isn’t in line with their other values, like health and wellness, sustainability and other popular values.

This idea also works in reverse: newer items like non-dairy yogurt can benefit from nostalgia marketing that will make modern ingredients and flavors more appealing to older generations. For example, Mintel notes that Yoplait has been particularly successful at appealing to consumers across generations by “mixing iconic brands and categories, introducing new (indulgent) flavors to the health-forward spoonable yogurt space and presenting beloved favorites in a lower-guilt format.”

Products of Note

Yoplait Original Starburst Cherry Chew Flavored Low Fat Yogurt with Vitamins A and D contains live and active cultures and bio-engineered food ingredients. Yoplait’s new limited-edition yogurts are tuning to the ‘90s with flavors based on popular candies like Gushers, Skittles and Starburst.

42% of consumers responded that they likely or definitely would buy this product.

The pumpkin spice flavor from SmartMuf’n may sound like a delicious throwback, but these treats are also appealing to those looking to keep things healthy: they’re gluten-free, keto-friendly, non-GMO and only 94 calories each.

Tazzy Candy, a women-owned, better-for-you candy company, announced the launch of their new lollipop line. Tazzy Candy lollipops have no sugar and are made exclusively with natural flavors and colors from real fruit and vegetable juice.

Alter Eco Deep Dark Quinoa Crunch Organic Chocolate is a vegan, fair trade, and gluten free product is described as light, nutty and toasted with 60% cocoa. It is said to provide a nostalgic crunch with a hearty sprinkling of royal pearl quinoa crisps.

35% of consumers responded that they likely or definitely would buy this product.

Approaching Nostalgia

For brands that are looking to capitalize on nostalgia, there are a few key ways of going about it, depending on the product and the target demographic.

Reviving an Old Favorite

Many people have specific products from their childhood that they remember fondly, but aren’t available anymore. Now, with the internet and social media, it’s easy for brands to keep an ear out for discontinued products that there’s still a demand for.

In With the New

Many brands launching brand-new products use nostalgic flavors or items to tap into people’s pre-existing emotional connections. Brands interested in the nostalgia trend may be able to innovate with a new format or product line, while featuring a classic flavor that take consumers back to a memorable time in their lives.

Products of Note:

Good Humor recently revived their frozen Viennetta cake to the delight of many. The product features wavy vanilla ice cream between crisp chocolatey layers that is perfectly portioned for the whole family. It claims to offer great tastes and quality since 1920.

Frito Lay Doritos 3D Crunch relaunched in stores nationwide. The product comes in Doritos' classic nacho cheese flavor and now a  "hot-and-spicy" ranch flavor, too.

General Mills Golden Grahams Retro Recipe Honey Cereal has been relaunched with a retro recipe and a newly designed pack.

54% of consumers responded that they likely or definitely would buy this product.

Pepsi Blue was re-released for the first time since it originally hit shelves in 2002. The berry-flavored pop was available in 20 oz bottles and six packs while supplies lasted.

Nostalgic Flavors for Inspiration-

  • PB&J

  • S’mores

  • Cotton candy

  • Cherry

  • Cola

  • Apple

  • Pumpkin

The Takeaways

Nostalgia can be a powerful tool if wielded correctly. Brands should take care to be as inclusive as possible in their decisions, both generationally and culturally. It’s also important that you think about how your product is pushing toward the future, while still connecting to reminiscent times for consumers. Take advantage of the power of today’s digital world as well as use modern ingredients and flavors. Whether your brand is reviving an old favorite or introducing something new and innovative with a vintage touch, flavor can help to bring consumers back to ‘the good days’ all while providing comfort and enjoyment in a still uncertain time. And if you’ve been thinking about throwing it back to yesteryear, now is a great time -- people are hungry for it!

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