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  • COVID's Impact: Stay-at-Home "Eatertainment" and Social Media Cooking

    Denise Purcell

    The winter issue of Specialty Food magazine is typically where we look at the trends expected to influence the industry for the next 12 months, be it flavors and ingredients, or developments in how and where consumers are shopping.

    Unfortunately, waves of COVID-19 are still rampant and sticking close to home will continue for the foreseeable future. The pandemic has caused major shifts in food preparation and consumption, evident in most of the trends we discuss in this issue.

    Several of the SFA Trendspotter panel’s picks for the top trends of 2021 revolve around COVID-19 and its implications. The new normal means preparing meals and snacks at home, often as the whole family continues to navigate school and work under the same roof day after day. Not only are many center-store pantry categories experiencing the COVID boom but experimentation and engagement in food prep may be one of the few bright spots of this bleak time.

    Excitement and discovery consumers once found in restaurants or through travel has been curtailed because of lockdowns and economic concerns. The home kitchen is the new place to seek out ingredients and recipes that will stave off meal monotony. Restaurant-quality condiments, cooking sauces, and cocktail mixes are in demand as are ingredients that will bring global flavors to everyday dishes. According to Acosta data in our feature, Pandemic Trends Carry Into 2021, sales of premium and super-premium packaged foods are up across households of varying income levels as consumers look to replace some of their restaurant dining at home. On top of that, several products are coming to market that are selling whimsy, from maple syrup with edible glitter to hot chocolate bombs, adding what the Trendspotters’ dubbed “eatertainment” to mealtime.

    In fact, food has been a point of connection throughout these long months. Social media has become part entertainment, part resource with everything from Zoom dinner parties, to Instagram quarantine-meal shots, to YouTube breadmaking lessons. This is true across age groups: Emerging platforms like Twitch, a live video streaming service, and TikTok, a short-form video sharing app, both skew toward Gen Z and younger, and food-related videos are surging in both. Case in point: Chile Gushers, something I only know about because my 11-year-old niece saw it on TikTok and informed me it was a trend we should write about. You can read more in Trends & Happenings but in short, these chile candies are a take on traditional Mexican confections that are finding new life in the U.S. thanks to a post gone viral.

    As we head into 2021, it’s looking very much like a significant number of consumers will continue to cook at home, at least until restrictions on restaurant operations have ended. Products that keep meals interesting, video and recipe content, and meal kits sold at retail or by restaurants depending on off-premise sales can all help them have some fun while doing so. 



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