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Generational Comfort Food: Culinary Trend Mapping Report

On the surface, most of us crave many of the same foods: ice cream, chocolate, grilled cheese, chips. However, different generations can crave different foods─and, as importantly, different incarnations of those foods─for different reasons.

How does this play out with comfort food, a topic near and dear to consumers’ hearts in times of economic turmoil and financial stress? Do Boomers and their Gen Y offspring turn to the same foods for comfort? How about Gen Xers, raising children in a new world of healthful options and global flavors? And what role do venerable food brands play in definitions of comfort food by generation?

To uncover some answers, the Center for Culinary Development conducted a national online Generational Comfort Food Survey . By aligning survey findings with the comfort food trends we have been tracking, it became clear that comfort foods are evolving. And that’s because consumers’ tastes and values are evolving, along with health goals and personal/professional lifestyles.

So what’s new? Here are three overarching dynamics that are framing change in the comfort food arena:

  • Contemporary Quality - Consumer expectations and criteria are changing. Food quality comes in new shapes and sizes today, in some cases customized to each generation.
  • The New Diversity - It’s not just Generation Y that is adopting comfort foods from other cultures.
  • Balanced Eating - Indulging in our favorite comfort foods can result in pangs of guilt afterwards. However, today’s consumers have new choices.
Generational Comfort Food: Culinary Trend Mapping Report weaves discussion of these overarching dynamics into profiles of key contemporary comfort food trends. It also situates each trend within the five stages of the Center for Culinary Development’s niche-to-mainstream trend mapping:

  • Stage 1
  • Breakfast for Dessert. Consumers of all ages are enjoying sweet breakfast foods in after-dinner slots.

  • Stage 2
  • The New Meatloaf. Chefs are updating meatloaf with new meats (some more healthful), new global flavorings and new forms.
  • The Return of Pie. Inspired bakers re-do pie with fresher, more seasonal fillings and exotic twists.

  • Stage 3
  • Pho/Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup. Thanks to a more diverse Gen Y, many consumers are finding comfort in this flavorful and healthful Vietnamese noodle soup.

  • Stage 4
  • Asian Curries. Aromatic and satisfying Indian and Thai curry dishes have attracted a broad fan base of adventurous eaters, including those seeking more nourishing comfort.
  • Casserole Redux. Today’s casseroles are fresher and more healthful, improved with seasonal vegetables and lighter fillings.

    Stage 5

  • Mac and Cheese With a Twist. Whether updated with creative twists or supplemented with healthful veggies, mac ‘n cheese remains a crowd pleaser.

This data-rich report combines tracking of today’s culinary trends with fresh consumer insights. Manufacturers and foodservice operators can rarely go wrong with savvy catering to consumers’ comfort food cravings. To really hit the target, look to our trend translations for a world of contemporary comfort food opportunities.

• • • The Culinary Trend Mapping Report is an indispensable tool for those whose job it is to stay abreast of what's hot - or what will be - in the food world!

Using the Center for Culinary Development’s (CCD) signature Trend Mapping technique, a validated method identifying which culinary trends are “gaining traction” and which are simply flashes in the pan, each report concentrates on a theme, or trend, that is affecting the food industry, and then looks at the emerging and established ingredients, cooking styles and products along the Trend Map that are driving this theme.

Each report is a substantial journal packed with trends, data, strategies and insights on the food industry that simply aren't available anywhere else.

Each Issue of the Culinary Trends Mapping Report

  • Identifies the maturity level of foods and ingredients according to CCD’s unique, proprietary 5-stage trend mapping process.
  • Concentrates on a theme that is affecting the food industry, and then looks at the emerging and established trends along the Trend Map that affect—or are affected by—this theme.
  • Delves into these trends and what they mean for you and the manufacturing, retailing, and foodservice industries.
  • Gives strategic insight into how consumers are thinking of and reacting to new foods and ingredients.
  • Provides business know-how regarding opportunities, challenges, and ways to implement current trends into foodservice, retail, and packaged goods operations.
  • Presents a feature interview with a member chef from CCD’s exclusive 80+ member Chefs’ Council® that offers expert analysis and his or her perspective on a specific trend.

Additional features include:

  • Menu Examples: Within the trend profiles, we show how the trends are being served─through current menu examples from white tablecloth and independent restaurants, as well as new product offerings from chain foodservice operators.
  • Industry Veterans Speak: Points of view from an industry perspective on what each trend means—whether positive or negative—to the food industry at large, including consumers, professionals and businesses.

Trend Mapping

Trend Mapping is guided by the premise that major food trends pass through five distinct stages on their way to the mainstream:

  • Stage 1: The ingredient, dish and/or cooking technique appears at upscale dining establishments, ethnic and popular independent restaurants.
  • Stage 2: The item is featured in specialty consumer-oriented food magazines, such as Gourmet and Bon Appétit plus retail stores such as Sur La Table that target culinary professionals and serious home cooks.
  • Stage 3: The item begins to appear in mainstream chain restaurants -- Applebee's or Chili's --as well as retail stores such as Williams-Sonoma that target recreational cooks.
  • Stage 4: Publications such as Family Circle and Better Homes and Gardens pick up the buzz.
  • Stage 5: Finally, the trend makes its way to quick service restaurant menus and is either starting to appear or is having increased presence on grocery store shelves.


Published bimonthly, the Culinary Trend Mapping Report is available for purchase as a single issue or a six-issue subscription.

In the News

Today’s Generations Redefining Comfort Food

New York, August 10, 2009 Aging Boomers and diverse Gen Yers are finding new ways to fulfill their comfort food cravings, according to the Generational Comfort Food Culinary Trend Mapping Report co-published by the Center for Culinary Development (CCD) and Packaged Facts. The report is based in part on a national survey of over 3,700 people about their comfort food preferences, which was conducted by CCD in June 2009. The survey confirmed that consumers are passionate about their comfort foods, many of which stem from childhood favorites. In today’s changing food world, however, these dishes are evolving in sync with new values and lifestyles. 

“Childhood comfort food is getting a make-over according to who’s eating it,” says CCD CEO Kimberly Egan. “Each generation has different needs and tastes, including more healthful fare, gourmet ingredients and bolder flavors, which are reflected in their go-to comfort foods.” 

While the survey showed that the overall food category preferred by all ages was sweets, individual responses revealed a more nuanced generational portrait of comfort food preferences. For example, while many participants craved chicken soup, Gen Yers also turned to Vietnamese pho. Gen Xers gravitate to beloved branded foods while Boomers are skewing premium but keeping an eye on health.

And what are the overarching trends driving today’s beloved and evolving comfort foods?  We identified three:

Contemporary quality. All three generational cohorts are all seeking higher quality food experiences and these are surfacing in updated versions of old favorites. Today’s pies are farmers’ market fresh; new leaner meats appear in meatloaf; casseroles are loaded with seasonal veggies; and mac ‘n’ cheese arrives with gourmet twists. Additional upgrades include fresh herbs and exotic spices, artisan cheeses, and natural and organic ingredients.

The new diversity. Although Boomers have a decided taste for exotic flavors, diverse Generation Y is truly adopting global comfort dishes like Vietnamese beef noodle soup (pho), sushi, and Indian and Thai curries. In addition to these new comfort meals, global flavors are enhancing comfort classics.

Balanced eating. Boomers and Gen Xers are trying to balance indulgent comfort foods with more healthful versions using fresh vegetables, sustaining whole grains and leaner meats. Gen Y grew up learning nutrition basics and now craves fresh fruit for a healthful burst and cheese in all forms for a protein and flavor boost. 

Opportunities abound for food marketers to create enticing, up-to-date versions of the comfort foods every generation passionately craves.

The Culinary Trend Mapping Report is co-published by the Center for Culinary Development and Packaged Facts.

About Packaged Facts - Packaged Facts publishes market intelligence on a wide range of consumer industries, including consumer goods and retailing, foods and beverages, demographics, pet and financial products. Packaged Facts also offers a full range of custom research services.

About the Center for Culinary Development - CCD is a full-service food and beverage development and research company that blends culinary creativity with strategic marketing expertise for successful product innovation.

Executive Summary
Why Generational Comfort Food? - Kimberly Egan
Generational Comfort Food Survey Overview
Executive Summary

Trend Summary
Stage 1 - Breakfast for Dessert
Stage 2 - The New Meatloaf
- The Return of Pie
Stage 3 - Pho/Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup
Stage 4 - Asian Curries
- Casserole Redux
Stage 5 - Mac 'n' Cheese With a Twist

Chef Speak: CCD Chefs Council Voices
Patti Dellamonica-Bauler: "Cozying Up" Desserts

Strategic Implications
Opportunities for Comfort by Generation

Source List

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