Comfort food meets health as year draws to a close

Fiera Milano, Rho

Market Data

Comfort food meets health as year draws to a close

Snacks and Fresh Desserts confirmed as top “mood stabilisers” in this post-pandemic era. Trendsetters endure, meat sees growth and Beverage booms.

Statistics collated by IRI for TUTTOFOOD 2023 show, in figures, how consumer demand was shaped in 2021, focusing on the last month.


“For food in large-scale retail in 2021, we expected a ‘counterfactual’, as they say in technical jargon. That is, a decrease or at least a settling compared to an already excellent 2020,” comments Marco Limonta, Business Insights Director IRI. “Instead, the figure was still very positive, particularly the continuation of pandemic-related habits. Growth, however, was not distributed evenly across the industry: there were differences in both purchasing channels and the basket of products purchased.”


Data in hand, indulging in a sweet treat seems to have become a habit for many and is on the rise as the state of emergency extends. Also propelled by the increase in average price, Sweet Snacks closed 2021 up 4.7% (with sales of nearly 2 billion) and up 3.9% in December 2021. There was similar growth during the year for Fresh Desserts (up 4.6% to 338 million) while in the last month of 2021 the boom reached +9.1%. The dessert boom is rounded out by double-digits in Seasonal Products (+28% and €986 million for the year; +11% to 354 million in December). The ongoing restrictions last year evidently reinforced the tradition of parties at home.


“What's new in 2021,” explains Limonta, “is the recovery of product groups that were somewhat 'neglected' by consumers during the previous year, such as gastronomy and ready meals.  At the same time, ‘trendsetters’ were also consolidated, i.e., categories that are always high performing, such as healthy foods. Again, however, we’re noticing shifts; there’s less focus on organic and free-from and more on high-protein foods.”


The positive momentum in Packaged Meat is also continuing, +4.7% in 2021 (an expenditure of about 1 billion) and +6.6% in December (€95 million worth of consumption). “As with cheese, however, it remains to be clarified how much of this increase is due to a shift from deli counters to set weights.”


As for Beverage, 2021 (up until November) shows a strong rebound of +25.9% to €2,806 million, while in November alone, growth is even in triple digits compared to the same month in 2020 - +232.6% - with expenditure of 259 million reflecting the reopening of the hospitality.


“Affirming its strong consumption-at-home trend, besides comfort food, is Beverage, with healthy figures for beers, carbonated drinks, sparkling wines and prosecco. In terms of channels, the discount store format stands out, with double-figure growth compared to the single-digit figure for conventional supermarkets, while online continues to grow, although obviously more moderately than the triple-digit boom of 2020. For the latter, what’s revealing is that by now online purchases are no longer a niche channel, they’ve now reached the average family,” concludes Marco Limonta.