Nostalgia boosts UK food market growth

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Marketing Soft drink

Nostalgic and ‘retro’ foods have helped drive continued sales value growth in the UK food and beverage market even as the country entered recession, according to a new report from Leatherhead Food Research.

The global movement toward comfort eating has grown as the economic climate has worsened and many food companies have sought to cash in on the trend by reintroducing discontinued product lines and expanding in categories like frozen foods and desserts.

Market research manager at Leatherhead Chris Brockman told “The nostalgia trend has intensified this year: People are going back to comfort foods and emotional eating. Canned foods have been doing quite well and sales of things like jellies and frozen desserts are performing well.”

Leatherhead’s UK Food and Drinks Report 2009 covers market information from 2004 to 2008, so although it reports three percent annual sales value growth during this time, the full effects of the recession may not yet be apparent.

“Clearly the recession intensified at the beginning of this year so the figures are likely to get worse,”​ said Brockman.


However, products that hark back to better times have proved popular with cash-strapped consumers.

Brockman gives the example of Birdseye’s Arctic Roll, a frozen dessert which was popular in the UK during the 1970s and 80s, but lost fans in the early 1990s, leading the company to discontinue the product. It was reintroduced in December.

In addition, he said that consumers are treating themselves to chocolate and confectionery products, even as they are choosing private label products and cutting back on non-food luxuries.

“People are trading down to own label versions but they are always buying treats as well. There is still quite a good market for that,”​ said Brockman. “We always say that chocolate does very well in a recession, and it has done.”

He said that Mars in particular has done well – and it has also tapped into the trend for nostalgia, by bringing back Treets, its brown-shelled chocolate-covered peanuts, for a limited time, even though it discontinued them in 1988.

Meanwhile, there are marked differences across Europe when it comes to which sections of the food and drink market are doing well.

For example, while the retail sales value of carbonated soft drinks increased in the UK by a modest 5.3 percent from 2004-2008, it shot up in Spain by 22.7 percent. And the sales value of ice cream fell by 10.9 percent in the UK during the period, while it grew by 7.1 percent in Italy.

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