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Inspired Tastes

Savory Meals — Delightfully Comforting

January 2021 | NATALIE, MARKETING MANAGER

For many consumers, COVID-19 has led to feelings of stress and uncertainty. To cope with these challenging circumstances, there’s been a culture-wide shift towards products that soothe and comfort—and food is no exception. This year’s product releases have focused on familiar foods such as mac ‘n’ cheese, fast food, and wings, but with a flavorful twist. Brands are finding ways to breathe new life into these classic dishes, adding unique ingredients, and in some cases, improving their health credentials.

Why This Trend Will Stick

Growth of Vegan Diets

Restaurants and influencers are experimenting with ways to make vegan food more indulgent.

“Fermented bean paste creates meaty (umami) flavor for vegan food. I use it for gravy, for things like bolognese, gravy. It’s good for transforming things like mushrooms into something with much higher depth from flavor.”

—Keke Kerran, Vegan Chef

Focus on Self-Care and Stress Relief

Consumers are reaching for foods that trigger a comforting childhood memory or are simply their go-to snack when they need to relieve stress.

— New York Times

Here are the microtrends we see in this trend:

  • Vegan Fast Food
  • Mac ‘n’ Cheese with a Twist
  • Comfort Bakes
  • Vegan Buffalo ‘Wings’
  • Flexitarian Options

Vegan Fast Food

Finding quality vegan options at fast food restaurants was virtually impossible for years. But with an increase in consumer demand has come an increase in availability, as more brands create vegan-friendly products to fit this growing need. Vegan fast food, particularly in the UK, is rapidly growing in popularity as fast food and fast casual restaurants embrace this discerning approach to food.

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Brands are creating vegan alternatives for virtually every food, from chicken sandwiches and döner kebabs to burritos and burgers. Meat replacements are made with tofu, soya, seitan, and jackfruit while cashew sauces and hummus replace dairy.

Temple of Seitan marketed itself as London’s first vegan fried ‘chicken’ restaurant, serving sandwiches made from wheat gluten instead of chicken breast. Their sandwiches still feature all of the classic chicken sandwich ingredients, such as tomato, lettuce, pickles, mayo, cheese, and even jalapenos for an extra kick. While the meat is meatless, the sandwiches are as robust and delicious as any non-vegan option.

Another delicious vegan fast food option is What The Pitta!’s vegan ‘döner’ kebab, which uses a variety of spices to give soya chunks the same flavor as a real döner kebab all while being vegan-friendly.

Mac ‘n’ Cheese with a Twist

Mac ‘n’ cheese is a beloved comfort food, one filled with nostalgia for many consumers. The pandemic has only strengthened the passion for this rich dish, with brands finding new and creative ways to reinvent this childhood favorite. The addition of spicy ingredients such as jalapenos, guajillo chile, Hatch chile, Anaheim peppers, poblano peppers, and chipotle peppers has been popular. As well as milder, more robust flavor notes from pumpkin, butternut squash, slow-roasted tomatoes, and spices such as rosemary and oregano.

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One option that combines two childhood snacks is Cheetos’ Mac n’ Cheese, which comes in flavors such as Bold & Cheesy, Flamin' Hot, and Cheesy Jalapeño. Not only does this product reinvent two nostalgic foods, but it also includes the boost of spicy flavor that many consumers are craving.

For a more refined taste, there’s Sweet Earth Food’s Rosemary Mac ‘n’ Cheese, which adds rosemary, oregano, tuscan veggie grounds, and slow-roasted tomatoes to the classic mac ‘n’ cheese. While it may not have as much heat as Cheetos’ Mac ‘n’ Cheese, it has plenty of robust flavor and includes some veggies for an added health benefit.

Comfort Bakes

Many consumers grew up eating casseroles for dinner, stuffed with rich ingredients and savory flavors. As COVID-19 pushes consumers to indulge in comfort foods, many are looking back to this classic household dish. Brands are reinventing dishes such as moussaka, lasagna, stuffed vegetables, casseroles, and baked eggplant. These vegetable-forward meals feature filling potatoes and lentils alongside sweeter vegetables such as eggplants, tomatoes, corn, carrots, and green peas and sauces like gravy, bechamel, and creamed spinach.

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Amy’s Vegan Mexican Casserole with Cheeze is a plant-based option that still provides all the comfort of its meat-filled counterparts. This bake is filled with vegan cheeze, white corn masa, black beans, sweet golden corn, tomatoes, olives, chili peppers, and various spices for a delectable, flavorful experience.

Another hearty option is Yaya’s Garden Gemista, which offers a few plant-based comfort food options including Moussaka Greek Casserole (with potatoes, eggplants, tomatoes, and plant-based protein sauce), Pastitsio Greek Lasagna (with a plant-based protein sauce and bechamel sauce), Gemista Greek Stuffed Vegetables, and Melitzana Greek Baked Eggplant.

Vegan Buffalo ‘Wings’

While vegan foods have a reputation for being health-conscious, that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun. Plant-based party foods are becoming more popular, with vegan buffalo wings a favorite among consumers. Vegan buffalo wings are made from cauliflower or broccoli, with all the flavor of their meatier counterparts. These flavors can be more traditional, such as ranch, sweet mustard, garlic parmesan, and buffalo, or can lean international with kung pao or teriyaki.

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Birds Eye’s Frozen Cauliflower Wings are simple, with breaded cauliflower and a garlic parmesan sauce. Even though there’s no meat inside, the crispy breading and rich sauce still recreate the delectable taste of real buffalo wings.

Looking towards international flavors, there’s Wholly Veggie!’s wings, which come in traditional Ranch Cauliflower and Buffalo Cauliflower flavors, as well as a spicy Kung Pao Broccoli variety.

Flexitarian Options

Flexitarian—a portmanteau of ‘flexible’ and ‘vegetarian’—diets are focused on reducing, but not entirely eliminating, meat products. This mixing of animal products and veggies allows for a wide range of flavors, textures, and recipe options in their plant-filled meats. Acting as the base for these flexitarian sausages and meats are pork, beef, chicken, lamb, and bacon. These animal-based ingredients are combined with a mix of vegetables from beets and potatoes to leafy greens, fennel, and peas. For added flavor, some include chilis such as pepperoncini, chipotle, and habanero.

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Beehive’s Flexitarian Sausages feature bold flavor profiles including Mexican (with chipotle, corn, and black beans), and Moroccan Lamb & Lentils (with lamb, mint, peas, beef, and beetroot). While these sausages have less meat than their non-flexitarian counterparts, they certainly make up for it in the addition of dynamic and delectable ingredients.

Seemore’s Sausages opt for different, yet no less compelling, flavor choices. Their sausage varieties include La Dolce Beet-a (filled with pork, fresh beets, garlic, and fennel), Broccoli Melt (with pork, broccolini, Monterey Jack, and pepperoncini), Bubbe's Chicken Soup Sausage (with chicken, herbs, fresh carrots, and celery), and Loaded Baked Potatoes (with pork, potatoes, cheddar, uncured bacon bits, and chives).

Takeaways

  • Comfort food is a high-demand space for vegan options to expand into, especially fast food and party foods such as wings.
  • Flexitarian options are a welcome sight, allowing consumers to reduce their meat consumption without sacrificing taste.
  • Consumers are flocking to rich flavors, opting for indulgent bakes that still have a health-conscious edge to them. 

To get started on your next delightfully comforting innovation, contact your McCormick account manager or contact us today.