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Back to the Flavors of Nostalgia

February 15, 20232 min
Lauren Daniels photo
Lauren Daniels Tastewise
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Smells and tastes from days gone by evoke a sense of nostalgia, a powerful emotion that can transport us back to cherished memories from our past. From modern takes on flip phones in the communications sector to ‘90s hairstyles in the fashion industry, everyone wants to go back to the good old days.

If you ask us, the food and beverage industry has wholeheartedly embraced this sentiment by reintroducing classic flavors and packaging from the past, giving consumers a taste of yesteryear. If this is in any doubt, one just needs to take a look at the commercials that dominated the Superbowl this year. Advertisers turned their Blue Steel gazes on maximum and gave the Clueless masses some ‘Martha and Snoop’- level food for thought.

Classic Sodas and Candy

One way nostalgia is making a comeback is through the revival of classic sodas and candy. Brands like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have reintroduced flavors from the past, such as Surge and Crystal Pepsi. These beverages not only satisfy consumers’ craving for a taste of their childhood but also tap into the demand for limited-edition products.

Retro candy brands like SweeTARTS and Fun Dip have also seen a resurgence in popularity. The colorful packaging and familiar flavors evoke a sense of childlike happiness for adults and curiosity for children. As a result, these brands have been able to tap into the consumer demand for unique and niche products.

Classic Recipes

Another delicious way that food throwbacks are making a comeback in the food industry is through the revival of classic recipes. More restaurants and food brands are rediscovering and reinventing traditional recipes that have been or lost their shine over time.

According to the Tastewise 2024 Trend Report, the latest crowd-pleaser, hot honey, is spicing up menus and dinner tables all over America. Classic dishes like fried chicken, and ice cream sandwiches are being elevated with spicy honey, while fried cornbread gets a hot honey-flavored kick.

This fusion flavor sensation is taking the nation down memory lane in a big way. Artisanal bakeries are also getting in on the act by offering their customers new takes on classic baked goods like pies, cakes, and bread. According to a 2022 study by Deloitte, 64% of consumers are more concerned about the impact food has on their health, while 70% say that they are willing to pay more for organic products.

Bread like sourdough uses very traditional baking methods and can be given an extra healthy spin by including seeds or nuts (if you’re not allergic to them.) The study also revealed that consumers love organic, rustic, and artisanal so much that they are willing to pay 80-100% for items that fit the profile.

The latest wave of nostalgia that is washing over the nation and the globe cannot however be seen as a one-size-fits-all phenomenon nor can it be viewed as a monolithic concept. The subtleties and nuances of nostalgia are as varied and personal as the population of the world.

Not only is nostalgia milieu related, but it is also primarily driven by the time periods that individuals have experienced during the course of their lives. Millennials are nostalgic for the 90s because that is when they were kids. Gen Z gets to share some of the best days of other people’s lives without having to live through the original iteration of events.

Nostalgia can also be specifically linked to cultural groups and their specific, collective experiences. This means that individuals who share similar backgrounds can, in theory, have relatively similar frames of reference and nostalgia triggers.

For example, a Mexican-American Millennial might feel nostalgic for a certain type of soup made by their grandmother in the 90s, an experience that her peers also shared. This common experience may ultimately shape a sense of nostalgia 30 years later that guides some of today’s consumption choices in this demographic. 

This type of data and insight opens up an incredible opportunity for the food and beverage industry to cater to specific audiences by tapping into data sources like Tastewise. As a platform, Tastewise allows for an even deeper dive into the numbers through the segmentation of data according to social media channels as well as audience-specific factors. 

The concept of ‘mainstream’ is just too vague to mean anything in a world where so much data is available for analysis. Thanks to AI, the development of industry-specific algorithms, and an unprecedented ability to understand consumer needs, product developers have their best shot at creating ‘instant classics’ for markets that have for so long been a mystery.

American childhood classics like mac and cheese and pizza are being reinvigorated with high-quality ingredients and modern techniques by notable chefs. Food Network’s Anne Burrell shared her take on mac and cheeses for Superbowl Sunday.

Pizza has grown by 29% in social discussion over the past year with 23.6% of restaurants offering pizza on their menus. According to data released at the International Pizza Expo and Conference, 52% of pizzeria owners predict a growth in demand for meat substitutes, with hot honey yet again making the list of ingredients to watch for 2023. The comfort food trend has been around for a while, but these updated takes on classics are blowing away the perception that comfort food can’t be sexy.

On the topic of comfort, Hamburger ‘Helper’ has made its way back onto many monthly shopping lists. This American favorite has been helping families make meals go further since the 70s and features classic flavors that take more than one generation back to their youth.

Flavors aren’t the only aspect getting an extreme makeover; nostalgia is also increasingly evident in the design and decor of many food establishments. From 50’s diners to retro-inspired cafes, restaurants are loving the application of vintage aesthetics to create a time warp for their customers.

The atmosphere and ambiance of these establishments allow consumers to feel like they are living in a simpler, more wholesome time. Going out with a group of friends for a milkshake was a plan ‘made in the shade’ in the 50s; doing the same thing today may be cooler than you realize with 6.16% of restaurants today offering milkshakes as a standard feature on their menus.

While not quite falling into the wholesome category, bartenders are shaking things up. Espresso martinis were designed in the 80s in London but have experienced a reawakening stateside. This contradictory cocktail is sure to ‘wake you up, before you go go’ and has seen a 65.03% increase in social discussion over the past year and is trending up a storm.

If the 80s were not your nostalgic taste then the 90s won’t disappoint. Gusher martinis are making patrons say, “hit me baby, one more time” to the delicious sweet-sour fruity flavors. According to the New York Times, some of the trendiest spots in the big apple are buzzing over the prohibition-era cocktail, the Bee’s Knees.

This simple, old favorite is being elevated in ways ranging from pollen-dusted glasses to five-spice flavored honey. Even celebrities are turning back the clock with Blake Lively’s mixer brand Betty Buzz using retro packaging and branding to deliver a very modern take on mixers. These magical, mocktail essentials are non-alcoholic, have natural flavors, contain no artificial additives, and are crafted right here in the US of A.

The revival of classic flavors, recipes, and aesthetics across the food and beverage industry is something that has foodies everywhere having a blast (from the past, that is!). The ability to analyze and understand the consumer mindset and then deliver to consumers what they want gives any business a whopping advantage over its competitors. 

By tapping into consumers’ emotional connections with the past, brands are creating unique and memorable experiences that can transport customers to a different time and place and take companies’ bottom lines back to happier days.

Customers see these brands as timeless, enduring, and a constant reminder of a time when their lives were less complicated (I could write a blog post about the connection between nostalgia and simplicity, but perhaps that’s better left for another forum). All of those factors combine to create true brand loyalty and keep iconic brands alive for decades to come.

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