In 2018, celebrity and influencer Kim Kardashian tweeted out to her tens of million followers, “Obsessed with Dunkaroos. Please come back!” Apparently her followers agreed, because the tweet garnered 55 thousand likes. The story of the Dunkaroos resurgence over the next few years following that tweet showcases the power of nostalgia and foreshadows 2023’s predicted trends.
Dunkaroos Make a Comeback
If you are a 90’s kid, you probably remember the taste and experience of Dunkaroos. Maybe you even feel the same way as Kim Kardashian about this nostalgic, sweet snack. The original Dunkaroos hit the market in 1988. Michael Bierbach, the associate marketing manager at General Mills explained the product’s popularity as an “excuse to eat frosting straight….” Dunkaroos were sold in a small plastic tub which had kangaroo shaped cookies on one side, and sweet, decadent frosting on the other side. In the 90’s and early 2000’s they flew off the shelves of grocery stores, and elementary school cafeterias were rife with undercover dealings in dunkaroos. They were basically what the cool kids had.
In 2012, the product disappeared from the shelves in the United States. Over the next decade, even though the snack wasn’t available, the craze refused to die. Bierback shared that there were an average of four tweets an hour about Dunkaroos. Finally, in 2020, General Mills brought back the much beloved product, which was sold out within the first hour of release.
Social Media and Nostalgia
If the resurgence of Dunkaroos taught the food industry one lesson it’s that our childhood flavors aren’t going away anytime soon. Jello Pudding Pops, a GenX favorite flavor, follows the same trend. These pops haven’t been sold on the market in more than a decade, but they still appear in nearly 10,000 monthly Google searches. Research shows that more than 71% of consumers would be interested in buying and tasting the nostalgic flavors of their childhood.
Actually nostalgic cravings, flavors and recipes have already made their debut in the trending food space, spread by social media. Tik Tok, the newest frontier for food related content, has tens of thousands of videos with titles like “90’s snacks they need to bring back” some of which have garnered millions of views and hundreds of thousands of likes.
Nostalgic flavors are predicted to become a food trend in 2023 – and food industry leaders expect nostalgic flavors, foods and brands to see a resurgence.
Food Nostalgia is Potent
It turns out there’s a rational reason why we can’t seem to give up Capri Sun juice boxes and pouches, Pop-Tarts, Fruity Pebbles, Circus Peanuts, and Rice Crispy Treats. 19th-century novelist, Marcel Proust, was the first to put a name to this phenomenon, now called the Proust effect. Proust wrote that his brain became flooded with involuntary memories about his past after he dipped his Madeleine biscuits (his childhood favorite treat) into his tea.
In general, sensory experiences have the power to bring back memories to the forefronts of our minds. And food acts as a superpowered Proust effect because eating is a multisensory experience. Foods that remind us of our childhoods are likely to bring back those childhood feelings of being warm, safe, carefree, and well-taken-care-of. That’s why yesterday’s tuna-noodle casserole became today’s comfort food. Nostalgic flavors, foods, and dishes can help people get through challenging times.
Bringing Back our Childhoods
Brands are working to reproduce these memories, and home cooks and food influencers are also interested in learning how we can recreate our childhood flavors at home. 2023 is predicted to be the year of nostalgia in the food space. Look out for nostalgia hitting your grocery shelves and being served up in your kitchen in one of four ways:
Comeback brands and products:
Dunkaroos made waves for being a particular fan favorite. But the last few years have seen several old products brought back to the market, including some of the following noteworthy options:
- Taco Bell Enchiritos: Earlier this year Taco Bell held a vote allowing patrons to choose one of two discontinued former fan favorites to bring back to the menu: enchirito or double decker taco. Fans voted to bring back the enchirito which is a tortilla, drenched with sauce and cheese, hiding the beef, refried beans, and onions inside.
- General Mills cereals: The breakfast giant brought back the “retro” 80’s era recipes for four of their cereals. Cocoa Puffs returned to its chocolatier roots. Trix had its classic shapes restored. Golden Grahams now contains honey again, and Cookie Crisps have more of a chocolate chip cookie flavor.
2023 is shaping up to be a competitive year in the food industry. The competition will likely drive even more companies to bring back their oldies but goodies recipes and products. That’s great news for professional and home cooks who yearn to use the products and recipes from their childhoods again.
Some of the fan favorites that make it back to the shelves come with contemporary “twists” to appeal to presdnt-day consumers. Younger shoppers today are often interested in healthier, vegan, and sustainable dishes, so a company can attract the Millennial and GenX crowd by combining nostalgia with health and sustainability. Meanwhile, Boomers are aging as a generation, and may prefer foods that are easy to chew and swallow, provide nutritional boosts, or help with medical conditions related to aging.
Here are some neo-resurgent foods and flavors with a twist that have made it to grocery shelves in the last few years:
- Dairy Queen’s Blizzards are the ice cream desserts some of us remember from our childhoods. But, they aren’t accessible to vegans or those who are dairy-free. Plant Power Fast Foods has changed all that. They created a vegan version of the Blizzard called “Snow Days” made with an oat milk soft-serve base and a variety of toppings and mix-ins. One example of this is the nostalgic flavor of a Butterfinger candy bar that they call “Betterfinger”.
- Mighty Yum is a health-focused food company that released the modern healthy version of the children’s favorite “Lunchables”. Packed with power foods and non-GMO, these kids lunch kits are plant-based and meat-and-dairy free.
- Kraft is going back to basics — sort of. The company is reinvesting in promoting its Velveeta processed cheese line. To jumpstart the campaign, Kraft introduced a gimmicky Velveeta-flavored martini for its nostalgic, adult customers. The company also made headlines for their Oscar Mayer brand “Cold Dogs,” a hot dog flavored popsicle that is a blast from the past.
Home cooks and business owners can capitalize on this by finding recipes that bring health, and senior-friendly benefits to flavors from the past in the coming year.
The Proust phenomenon, discussed earlier, occurs when the sensory experiences of our past involuntarily triggers feelings and memories. This means the flavor alone is enough to excite Millennials, Gen-Xers, and Boomers. A nostalgic flavor is versatile enough to be used in a variety of dishes and recipes.
These are some of the nostalgic flavors that are expected to trend in 2023:
- Honey graham flavor
- Childhood breakfast cereals: Burger King has already released a new shake that contains Froot Loop flavors.
- Root beer floats, straight from the 1950’s. This summery flavor is finding its way back into some bars with nostalgia-inspired root beer float cocktails being served in tall beverage glasses.
- Baked Alaska: this is Carbonate’s pick for the expected 2023 dessert trend.
- Pizza bites: Whole Foods expects to see healthier versions of macaroni and cheese and pizza bites dominate the 2023 market.
- 90’s era candies: Yoplait has already designed Starburst, Gushers, and Skittles flavored yogurts. Taste the rainbow.
- Animal cookies
- Kettle corn
- Orange creamsicles
If you are looking for a sensational dish to add to your 2023 menu, or you want to create a viral-worthy at-home favorite, think about how you can give the nostalgic flavors listed above a modern-day makeover. It can be a lot of fun to experiment with these flavors in your kitchen.
Modern day food isn’t always about the food itself. Sometimes, it’s about the experience. Another way that companies are invoking the Proust effect is with clever marketing that taps into our memories, for example:
Hellman’s has redesigned their mayo and ketchup packaging yet again. This redesign saw a “return to their roots,” with simpler, vintage era packaging.
A pop-up bar in Los Angeles is one of the companies capitalizing on recreating childhood memories. The bar is Blockbuster-themed, and features decor from the pre-2000’s era DVD rental shop. Not only is the decor and theme nostalgic, but the bar also serves “Grown-up Lunchables,” Dunkaroo ice cream sundaes, toasted s’mores, and Rice Krispie treats!
Remember going to McDonalds for a Happy Meal as a kid? Now the fast food chain is trying to market that experience to adult customers with the release of retro action figures such as: Grimace, the Hamburglar, Birdie, and the new figure Cactus Budd. These figures will accompany two boxed meals. The chain hopes its adult customers aren’t too grown up to play with toys. Spaghetti-O’s, the soup that millennials ate in school cafeterias as kids, is also trying the nostalgia tactic to appeal to its 90’s fans. The brand partnered with LVMH prize winning artist KidSuper to design a 90’s inspired lunchbox and thermos as a collectors item.
- Virtual collectibles:
Some brands are bringing the past into the future with nostalgic marketing in a virtual space. Dunkaroos auctioned ten NFTs to celebrate its renewal. Pizza Hut, meanwhile, has a totally unique approach to “newstalgia” — the blend of new and old. In 2021, the pizza chain released a limited edition “playable” pizza box. Fans can simply scan the QR code on the box and, with the help of their smartphones, the box back is transformed into an arcade-style augmented reality retro Pacman game. This vintage arcade offering is sure to excite nostalgic fans.
Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millenials are enjoying seeing their childhood favorite experiences brought back to the food space. 2023 will be the year of even more newstalgia, where childhood food meets grown-up experience, both virtual and real.
For home chef’s, 2023 is a great year to bring newstalgia home by throwing retro 90’s, 80’s, 70’s, 60’s or 50’s-themed parties, complete with the tastes, decor, and activities from those bygone eras.
Nostalgia going viral
Do you miss the tastes, sights, and sounds of your past? Social media is helping people from all generations reconnect with their memories from the comfort of their homes.
If you plan on hosting a 2023 back to the past nostalgia party, simply start by asking Google which snacks or flavors best represent that era. Then, to make almost any dish, search Youtube, TikTok, and other social media platforms for recipes and tutorials and suggestions as to which food items should be served together. You can even go so far as to generate ideas on how to decorate your space, what dinnerware to use, and what to wear.
Here is an example of what Gen Xer’s, who are missing Jello pudding pops, can do to bring it back. This simple recipe has gone viral, and with thousands of likes it goes a long way in bringing the childhood memories of many, back to the present:
- 2 cups of milk
- 1/2 cup of evaporated milk
- 1 package of chocolate pudding mix
- 1/4 cup of white sugar
- Beat milk, evaporated milk, chocolate pudding mix, and sugar in a bowl until thoroughly combined.
- Pour the mixture into popsicle molds.
- Freeze until solid, about 3 hours.