Comfort foods make a comeback

Comfort foods from big brands are seeing a resurgence, executives say, as consumers seek familiarity and convenience amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Many shoppers have favored fresh and specialty brands over Big Food’s processed products in recent years, while others have opted for cheaper store brands. Now, the world’s largest makers of packaged foods say frozen pizza, pasta sauce, and mac and cheese are rising in favor as consumers in lockdown eat at home.

Nestlé SA NSRGY 3.04% became the latest to detail the trend Friday when it reported stronger organic sales growth for the first quarter driven by Americans stockpiling its DiGiorno pizza, Stouffer’s frozen meals and Hot Pockets sandwiches. Baking brands like Toll House and Carnation also performed well, it said…

Overall, U.S. store sales of soup rose 37%, canned meat climbed 60% and frozen pizza jumped 51% for the week to April 11, according to research firm Nielsen…

“We’ve seen time and time again that big brands tend to do well when people are feeling anxious and under threat,” Chief Executive Alan Jope said. He added that he expects the shift to larger brands to last a couple of years.

I wonder how general this trend is.  I have seen data that readers are buying more long classic novels, and I am struck by my anecdotal observations of satellite radio.  I am driving much less than before (where is there to go?), but per minute it seems I am more likely to hear “Hey Jude” and “In My Life” on the Beatles channel than in times past.  Who wants to go out for their periodic 20-minute jaunt and have to sit through 6:34 of George Harrison’s “It’s All too Much”?

Here is the full WSJ story by Saabira Chaushuri.  As for food, I am more inclined to consume items that can be easily shipped and stored, and if need be frozen.  That favors meat and beans, and disfavors fresh fruit and bread.  Frozen corn is a big winner, as are pickles.  The relative durable cauliflower and squash do better than some of the more fragile vegetables, such as leaf spinach.  I am not desiring comfort food per se, but I do wish to cook dishes requiring a relatively small number of items (otherwise maybe I can’t get them all), and that does almost by definition overlap with the comfort food category.


Probably an epidemic of obesity after this one.
Comfort foods + sedentary lifestyle +mucho Netflix+ worry about the future.

Sugar kills more people than alcohol, tobacco and the corona virus combined. Only HIV and planes kill more people. Ebola comes in third, followed by traffic accidents, according to the FDAA fact book.

Well given many places such as Hawaii have adopted a "we will not open until not a single new case for four weeks straight" I look forward afterwards to them using the "pandemic of sugar" to suspend elections.

@Cat: One thing I would like to see when this is all over and I don't think we will ever know as not sure it's tracked, is how many people die from pulmonary embolisms purely as a result of the lockdowns. The lockdown is basically promoting everything that puts you at high risk for developing one and they have a vastly higher death rate than Chinese Flu. You already see this behavior with gamers, etc and even they were at least getting up and going to work daily and the lockdown forcing people to spend fourteen hours a day unmoving for months is going to, and already has, kill people.

Women. Cattle. Druggies. That's the skew. And btw big time +++ brand names (trying to blend languages here....bear with me so they'll understand) There's no autonomous thought. Kraft. Tyson. Prada. Chateau. Tylenol. Proctor&Gamble. They're sheep. Fuck them. Fools and they're money were deluded thinking they belonged together. I've made plans hoping they're put on the street. Bye bye beurgoeusie.

This, along with the senseless closure of all open outdoor spaces basically guaranteed to increase the proportion of the population with overweight/sedentary lifestyle health conditions that account for like 90% of covid deaths. Great public health strategy.

Fattening the herd for the second wave come this winter! Oreos and Mountain Dew is beloved by obese Americans who in turn are beloved by the coronavirus. Thus completes the circle of life.

Not me. I was an athlete years ago and this blasted virus has inspired me to lose weight and eat better and work out. Chin ups, pull ups, and pushups.

+ Just Dance with a daughter. It’s not the 3 hours a day of training I’d do but it’s working.

Not an American, but, being forced to stay at home, I have actually become more conscious of my health. I do daily workouts on my building's flat roof (no one there) to get some sun and fresh air. I have not been able to maintain this rhythm for the past few years, but now I have. Almost 2 months of daily workouts, with few exceptions. No more junk food, no more social vices like shisha and alcohol. No more travelling, with its sleep issues and traveler's diet.

Flour is really, really easy to store, as are bread mixes. Fresh bread warm from the oven is truly comforting, and it is the ingredients that are stored, not the bread. Bread machines that handle all the work are not cheating, any more than automatic rice cookers.

"As for food, I am more inclined to consume items that can be easily shipped and stored, and if need be frozen."

You can do all those things with bread. Yes, you can freeze bread. For a foodie, I thought Tyler know all that.

Freezing fresh bread is a crime. Frozen bread dough may have its place - fried bread using frozen bread dough can be a straightforward comfort food, sprinkled with powdered sugar. More appropriate for winter than summer, but always reliably comforting. Much like pancakes or waffles.

Bacon might be a bit hard to find these days.

I always freeze bread that I buy or make, mainly because it goes stale faster than I can eat it. Yes there is some quality loss -- but there always is, compared to fresh-baked bread. If this is upsetting, then toast the bread.

It's like saying anything other than fresh-squeezed orange juice is a crime. Even the best super-premium non-frozen OJ is not as good as fresh-squeezed. But most people don't both to get their OJ straight from oranges just before they drink it.

Working down the stockpile of cans, bags of flour, and other dried goods. I'd eat more fresh foods but limiting trips to market.

Agreed. Clearly this less about comfort food that availability and preparation in case food stocks become even more unreliable.

We're also taking care to avoid waste, and limit purchases of food stocks that might go bad before we can eat them.

Stouffer's is top of the line, with Hungry Man a distant second.

For making canned corned beef edible, I suggest sauteeing onions first.

Of course, all this can be eaten only together with the right wines. :-)

Rice is comfort food for the Asian. Beans is the comfort food for the Latin American. Hot Pockets is the comfort food for the North American.

Some cultures prefer simple foods. Others prefer food-engineered, chemically enhanced flavor bombs high in sodium and fat but low in micronutrients.

The best of Latin and North American fusion comfort food - simple and chemically enhanced flavor bombs high in sodium and fat.

A bag of Doritos would do.

Crunchwrap supreme. SO FUCKING GOOD. The folding of the tortilla is a triumph of mathematics. Mmmm!

Yuck. I hate biting into a thick layer of Taco Bell tortilla.

Convenience I buy, but not familiarity. It's just an artifact of (1) everyone adding more freezer / shelf-stable products to their cart, and (2) supply issues meaning cheaper / better store brands are sold out. I wouldn't credit any underlying physiological motivation, or "returning to old favorites".

Of course the brands still benefit, just like Zoom, by gaining new impressions on potential customers, a small fraction of whom will be sticky after the pandemic passes.

The other interesting point here is how processed foods exist as much due to the food companies' desire to escape commodification as due to consumer tastes. Cabbage is cheap, versatile, and low margin. And very hard to brand or differentiate, other than by brutal supply chain optimization. But processed into something else, it can be branded and marketed ("Got Milk", "Where's the Beef", and "Pork - the other white meat" are the exceptions that prove the rule). Owned and invested in.

"I do wish to cook dishes requiring a relatively small number of items"

Also, easy to prepare especially for those like me that had grown accustomed to eating out. Frozen pizza is easy to just pop in the oven. I just started a meal subscription service (Freshly), which delivers microwavable meals weekly. Food is ok, portions a little on the small side, but more convenient than trying to find a delivery or curbside pickup time slot from a supermarket or wait in line just to enter the store (due to distancing restrictions).

I think logistics of grocery shopping will become a source of innovation/competition for supermarkets if social distancing keeps going for a while (which it will, even after the government lock downs). How about letting people reserve a shopping time slot in advance so they don't have to wait in line?

And also providing real-time inventory online so people don't waste time heading to the market when the items they want aren't available. And letting people reserve out-of-stock items when they become available. Future of Amazon/Whole Foods?

Really wanted pizza Friday night. Grabbed two frozen that we’ve enjoyed many times. Added some extra toppings and enjoyed. By 2am realized that some foods we could enjoy in our younger days don’t work anymore. Way too spicy or something. Won’t be doing that again for a while!

It is amazing that an economist seems unaware of what tens of millions of unemployed Americans means. The cheapest brands are being bought out, while foodbanks are now attempting to feed millions more than customary. Let's see how much Kraft mac and cheese goes up in sales compared to house brands.

Lines at the food banks are making a comeback. Government is running the money printing machine. Trump made America Weimar Republic again!

Lockdown socialism produces results similar to other forms of socialism. No one should be surprised.

While the post office is still running, why don't you send me all of that worthless paper in your wallet.

DUDE!! I have a great selection of processed food lowbrow recopies! Try Bachelor's KD gourmet! 1 pk Yumy Kraft Mac n cheese; 2cup frozen peas, nuked; 3-4 hotdogs, cooked your favorite way and chopped in bite-sized chunks;. 1)2 cup diced pickled jalps; 1-2 cups of your favorite zesty ketchup! Stir together and eat out of the pot!

A little hyperbole but that’s a totally legitimate meal. We usually do spinach and ground turkey for mix ins. When I was a little kid it was a can of vegetable soup per box of mac n cheese.

Interestingly *since we are talking about comfort foods*, I have been wondering lately about the comfort there is in rereading the great literary works of the past. I think that the kind of comfort we are talking about is something more important than, say, knowing that one is considered to be a good chess player at one's local chess club, but on the other hand much less than the comfort that there is when, for example, we understand heart to heart (cor ad cor loquitur) any of the simple truths of friendshipses or kindnesses (romantic love (reciprocated love) is a good thing too but it is super rare and precious in this world, so let's limit ourselves to friendship and kindness for purposes of this conversation) (maybe someday I will write a long post about unreciprocated love, but probably not - GOD LOVES YOU and since I KNOW THAT it is kind of hard for me to get worked up about unreciprocated love - VERB. SAP. SUFFICIT.)

I am not sure how many people who comment here believe in the power of prayer .... my guess is that if I were to write a hundred lines on the best chapters in Keynes's Finnegans Wake and the best chapters in Joyce's General Theory (and trust me, you would have liked to hear what I had to say on those subjects), about one in ten people who are the sort of people who read these comment sections with a good-hearted hope to understand the world a little better, would instantly see what I was trying to do, and many of the rest would be INDULGENT ....

well, indulge me, whoever you are. These are hard times for lots of people, but ABOVE ALL FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE ACKNOWLEDGED RESPONSIBILITY - medical scientists, nurses, doctors, and as God is my witness, faith healers .....

well, acknowledge it or not, either we faith healers are all phonies (trust me, I have many faults but PHONINESS is not one of them), or we are not ....

well, if you care, my God-given name is Stephen, I have lots of friends (nuns who spend most of their time praying, consecrated priests who are growing old while practicing charity most hours every day of their lives, and yes, a few old people WHO WILL NEVER EVER HAVE A PAIN FREE HOUR IN THIS WORLD AGAIN, and a few other random beautiful souls) , I have lots of friends who pray for whatever I ask them to pray for (Trust me, I never ask them to pray for anything they would not be happy to be praying for), and whether you trust me or not (why should you, you don't know me) please just pray for a moment tonight - God values your prayers more than mine, but if you feel a little uncomfortable asking God to treat your prayer as a valuable prayer (Oh God I wish you only knew how valuable, if you did not know), just ask God to help you tonight because Stephen and his friends want that to happen, want you to UNDERSTAND that God does listen to your prayers, and that God will take care of you and will take care of everyone you care about .... and, if you are cynical, no I will never ever get or take a single cent or any other advantage in this world for any prayer anyone makes or for any good news I share ....)

well, if you don't care, that is all right too. Remember, though, whether you care or not --- or don't remember, if you think I am a phony (trust me I am not) ---- remember it is good to be kind. There are many lonely unloved creatures in this world who need good-hearted kindness. I am not one of them. But there are many of them. You won't regret it if you do the right thing.

Instant ramen is liquid gold in these times. Even prisoners use it for currency.

Fifty years ago. Has it gotten better?

Even lower on the gustatory scale are those instant noodles that come in a cup, I haven't eaten those for close to 40 years., who are not snobbish but are very serious about their food, claim that one can make good fried rice by adding instant cup noodles to the rice and that this is a food craze in Japan:

I'm generally open-minded but i'm not tempted by that recipe. I only eat instant ramen while backpacking (it's light and quick to cook, but is lower on my list of preferred carbo-heavy foods than instant cous cous, minute rice, and instant stuffing). And those noodle in a cup, I don't regard as a food item.

I've discovered my family loves to bake bread and pizza dough, who knew. My two teenage boys seemed to have spontaneously started baking, finding recipes for pizza dough, bread, even bagels, which they prepare together. Half the people I work with talk about where to find yeast and flour for baking. Another anecdotal trend I've seen is working on jigsaw puzzles.

Jigsaw puzzles were invented to occupy the illiterate before the advent of radio and television.

My wife likes jigsaw puzzles and she has 2 advanced degrees. When we vacation the grandkids love to do one with her.

I on the other hand am color blind and find them very difficult and time consuming.

Just heard former baseball great Keith Hernandez say he's doing humongous jigsaw puzzles to pass the time. With MLB in limbo right now maybe Bill James can launch some research into clutch puzzle-solving

My retired pharmacist father just finished a large puzzle of a railroad scene from the 1800s. He proudly sent out pictures of it to everyone and is busy trying to find a frame to buy for it online!

Anecdotally, I'm eating a bunch less because it's a pain and to go out and get stuff, and a pain to get online shopping slots. Especially averse to products which are heavily packaged. (despite thinking that lockdown may or may be the right policy, I'm complying pretty hard).

Swapped takeaway fast foods out entirely, mainly for home cooked foods that can be made quickly and easily, mainly some sort of pasta/carb plus veg. Eating less meat, sugar and fat, probably about the same amount of veg.

These food options are proof that women no longer care to cook for their families or have the ability to do so, despite millions of cookbook titles, recipes all over the internet and ship loads of weird appliances manufactured in the orient.

What's described isn't food, it's processed chemicals masquerading as food. What this reveals is that Americans are either incompetent (they can't cook real food) or lazy (they can cook but choose chemicals over food because it's easy). Maybe in other parts of the country all that's left at the grocery store is processed chemicals, but in my part there's an ample supply of fresh fruits and vegetables and dairy and meats.

The standard excuse for not cooking real food is that one doesn't have the time. Well, now one has lots of time and will have to come up with a different excuse. The supply chain for real food has broken down is a good candidate, whether it's accurate is beside the point since bullshit excuses have become national policy.

I like Ruhlman's pizza dough. Some recipes call for too much yeast: it's an unnecessary trade-off with time and makes for a pillowy dough, yeasty tasting - who wants yeasty tasting pizza? You can fold up your little envelope and refrigerate for months if you have no other bread to bake. I suggest you follow his lead after rise and briefly re-knead to redistribute yeast, rest, roll halfway, let rest covered with towel a few minutes while assembling toppings, roll rest of way - for a silky translucent dough. Note: for the initial rise, I'm superstitious about wanting a hermetically sealed yeasty environment; so instead of a tea towel, I use one of those plastic "lid" thingies that a TV-shopping relative ordered for me, but I used to use plastic wrap. Or a plate might be fine. Finally, to bake in your conventional oven: bottom rack, parchment on preheated stone, with just a little cornmeal for ball bearings. Maybe it can go direct on the stone but I screwed that up one time and had a job cleaning it.

I do not care to buy canned tomato products to make my own sauce when the sauce is one of the canned tomato products you can buy. Some aren't so tasty, though; lately I've settled on Mutti brand. Then you freeze what's left for next time. If you are concerned it's stayed in the fridge too long, you can also freeze your whole milk mozzarella, grated. (This is the blocky kind - but not "smoked." The fresh stuff has its place on summertime Margherita but it's a bit watery and not well suited to a comfort food-type pepperoni and pineapple pizza. Anyway, blocky mozzarella does not unfreeze as well as cheddar so probably not something you'd do in ordinary times. But I am doing it now! I've become the consistently thrifty housewife I once aspired to be.)

If you are left with just a little sauce, not enough for a full pizza, you can drizzle Thomas English muffins with olive oil, and toast, then finish with sauce and cheese: jack is fine if you hadn't any mozzarella left. A good little "pizza" snack. Or if you like to grill, flour tortillas work surprisingly well.

I get that frozen pizza is cheap and easy, but if you lost the taste for it too long ago to get it back, there are ways to make homemade pizza more competitive with it, price-wise.

I should add that for a long time I thought using "fresh" mozzarella was the way to go, to make proper pizza; it was only reading a Chowhound thread that taught me otherwise, even though I hadn't been very satisfied with my pizzas, and if I was a little smarter I might have figured that out on my own.

I'm definitely hitting the comfort foods and eating at all hours, but I think my calories per day are the about the same. Same weight as always.

My tips would be: air fryer french fries, and teriyaki in a squeeze bottle for anything on rice.

And the big bottle of Sriracha.

A subtle squirt of sriracha spiffs up just about anything (and just might scare away any pesky germ or virus).

For people who crave fresh veggies but want to limit store trips, stock up on zucchini -- it keeps far longer than other greenery. If you've got some unappetizingly wilted spinach etc, soak it in cold water for a few hours before cooking to bring it back to life.

Graham crackers. That is all.

I do not have nearly enough self-control for this.

Instead of retreating to comfort foods, we should think about changes. We need to consider the key role of food and diet in triggering pandemics every few decades.

Pandemics start when a novel pathogen (new species or new strain) jumps from animals to humans. It could be wild animals like bats, or it could be domestic animals like pigs and poultry (swine flu, avian flu).

"Animal distancing" would go a long way to mitigate pandemic risks. Keeping them apart from the human world, but also from each other. That means rethinking not just exotic wet markets but traditional animal agriculture practices and the diets that depend on them.

We get pandemics every few decades. Most are mild, and Covid is not too bad, but there are devastating historical examples like the Black Death and smallpox in the Americas. If we waste this crisis, the next crisis might lay waste to us.

I suppose so. Backyard chickens have made a comeback, but it was by overturning old public health concerns. Maybe rethink that.

Distributed "socially distanced" chicken flocks don't exactly seem to clearly raise the risks of a big zoonotic disease crossing over. Though, industrial chicken warehouses with hundreds fast growing breeds, loads of turnover....

The viruses that could jump across the species barrier from domesticated poultry has already find so. We’ve probably caught 200 diseases from the animals we’ve lived close to: horses, cats, dogs, poultry etc — mice are another matter (hanta viruses).

Bats are worth staying the hell away from. They carry many viruses, and are profoundly social thus spreading things through proximity.

You don't need new viruses, though. New strains of old viruses can be just as bad. For instance the 1918 pandemic was plain old H1N1 influenza.

H7N9 flu is apparently especially lethal, with a mortality rate around 30% to 40%, and it comes from poultry. Luckily it does not transmit easily from people to people... at least, not yet.

Don't worry. When edible protein becomes very expensive or impossible to get the ambulatory wildlife that once fed many people but are now ignored will be back on the menu again, particularly with some immigrant groups. The squirrels, rabbits, ducks and geese, turkeys and raccoons flourishing in cities and suburbs will what's for dinner.

Squirrel supposedly is not bad at all, just don't eat the brains due to possible mad-cow disease. Those fat little dudes under my bird-feeder are practically like family, but you never know.

Two of the more rural Kansas Citians I knew at college would occasionally bag a rabbit -- very lean but good stewed with mushroom soup.

I don't see why I would trust the backyard sanitary habits of ten thousand randos very much, though.

Eggs are low risk. The bird has to be healthy enough to lay eggs and the packaging is tamper evident.

I recommend listening to the Clive James, Peter Porter conversations in the "Book Talk" section of
Also, James' talk with John Clarke about Auden (on Clarke's site) is excellent.

I'm eating bat soup these days. Just doing my part for herd immunity.

By now, who'd be keen to sit through ANOTHER listen of the seven-plus minutes of saccharine pop self-indulgence titled "Hey Jude"? Perhaps less wieldy but far more substantive options lurk for discerning consumers.

During our plague interregnum citizen consumers might care to park a convenient edition (I vouch for the NYRB ed.) of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy in the glove box (if it fits) to retrieve and consult during the inevitable off-moments occurring in the course of shopping jaunts. Burton's prose exhibits an amazing capacity for dispelling the taedium vitae conjured by hearing Beatles' tunes played ad infinitum and/or ad nauseam.

Not sure about tastes in food changing, but I'm getting pretty sick of washing dishes.

Many of us have more time, but we're also shopping less often. For people who can afford to buy what they want instead of what is cheap, and who cook well and are comfortable doing so flexibly - making substitutions, using what's available - there has been relatively little change, or in my case I'm even eating somewhat healthier since I'm using the limited availability of some things as a reason to try new brands and also making more things from scratch. Like, it was a perfect to to switch to Ezekiel bread from the frozen section. I also buy a different mix of fresh fruits and vegetables when shopping less often - lettuce and strawberries for today, but melon, apples, carrots and squash for next week, for example. It has been easy for me - I normally buy in bulk and have an extra chest freezer for storing things, and when I shop I tend to buy things on sale and improvise meals for the week based on that.

Most people I know really can't do this. They aren't used to deciding what to make based on what's in their fridge and pantry, and trying to learn now of all times is really stressful for them. I imagine if this went on for years we'd see more people gardening herbs and vegetables, and cooking from scratch with shelf stable ingredients they stock up on, and so on, but those are skills that take years to become comfortable and involve a decent amount of waste from failed attempts - especially now that you can't meet up in person with people to learn.

We lucked out. We live out in the country, so the small farmers have taken up a lot of slack with their fresh vegetables and eggs. If the plague had started a month or two earlier, we would have had to make do. Some of the farmers are selling beef, pork, lamb, rabbit and chicken. Our friends sold $20K worth of beef one day. We're staying on their good side.

The increase in comfort food could also be because it requires less cooking skill. Sure, I have more time to cook now, but I still don't want to. I could have made time to cook before if I wanted to.

I also am barely in my car anymore, but formerly was a serious Beatles channel listener and during my daily commute and I must have heard Hey Jude at least 5 times a week. I remember because it's probably my favorite song of all time and I loved that they played it so much. In My Life also go plenty of airplay. They repeated certain songs quite often and these were definitely two of them (also certain Ringo and George songs, especiially All Things Must Pass and What is Life. For whatever reason John solo seemed to played less frequently)

I've being trying to create my own complete food, a blend with all nutrients my body needs, made from fresh ingredients, so when I return to "normalcy" I can have lunch without being around other people with no masks for a long time. It has a good taste, for me, but my wife did not like the flavour.

It's All Too Much is my favorite Beatles song. *shrug*

Comments for this post are closed