Comfort foods burning up stressed Briton budgets
Chocolate, nuts and specialty breads among those predicted to see large future increases

October 14, 2004, as reported by British consumers are spending more on comfort foods a total of £920m (US$1.66bn) in 2003, according to a new report from independent market analyst Datamonitor. It is a trend the analysis firm expect to continue well into the future.

“As the pace of life increases, the role for self-indulgence and treating in consumers’ everyday lives is becoming more important, and self-indulgence is a common way of combating the effects of stress,” said Lawrence Gould, consumer markets analyst at Datamonitor and author of the report.

Datamonitor forecasts that consumers’ expenditure on premium indulgence and comfort foods will increase by 27% to £1.2bn in 2008, and the number of premium treats per person per year from 50 in 2003 to 63 in 2008. For manufacturers, the treating occasion represents an opportunity to capitalize on consumers’ desire for quality over value-for-money by focusing new product development and marketing efforts on the indulgence aspects of products.

Chocolate is at the forefront

Chocolate is for many the ultimate stress buster, accounting for 43% of total spent on premium indulgence. Categories showing the greatest growth are snack nuts, juices and bread. Although the market for premium snack nuts is currently very small with an overall value of only £6.2m in 2003, it is forecast to increase by 40%, to almost £9m in 2008. Juices are the second fastest growing category, with forecast sales of £151m by 2008. Bread has also benefited from this self-indulgence trend as consumers have rediscovered bread produced according to artisan, traditional methods, with higher quality ingredients. Many supermarkets now offer a wide variety of premium breads from in-store bakeries. Sales of premium bread are set to increase by a third, from £190m in 2003 to £252m in 2008.

Premium snacking is a small oasis of 'me time'

Stress and the subsequent need to unwind and relax is one of the main drivers behind the increase in self-indulgent food and drink consumption. Self-indulgent treating fulfils a very important psychological function. Indulging in a premium snack is a self-centered activity, a small moment of relaxation, of “me-time”. Although this applies to snacking generally, it is particularly relevant to premium snacks, which have a higher focus on indulgence, taste, and quality.

Manufacturers can take advantage of this by positioning their products as rewards rather than simply as products that provide functional and tangible benefits. This blurring of consumers’ perception of what constitutes a need and what is merely a desire is becoming part of regular consumption behavior, which is a trend likely to endure since people do not generally cut down on necessities. This suggests healthy growth in this sector for the future.

Gratifying the tastebuds takes higher priority

Despite the growing awareness of the health-related pitfalls of indulgent-snacking, consumers are not generally prepared to abandon the pleasure that they derive from treating themselves. Whereas a higher focus on health can inhibit sales of snacks overall, this does not have the same effect on premium treating.

“Premium treats are not necessarily unhealthy and at any rate are not consumed in the same volumes as standard products. They are primarily selected for their indulgent qualities rather than with any health-related concerns in mind,” said Gould. However, health concerns are limiting the growth in treating occasions, although when consumers do indulge they now opt for higher quality, more indulgent products – a “less of the best” attitude.

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