Nostalgia is nothing new when it comes to marketing in the food and beverage industry, but in 2023 and 2024, we’ve seen it blown up in a big way. Nostalgic marketing, such as bringing back old menu favorites or retro brand creative is a powerful tool when it comes to consumer psychology.

“We saw this at the Institute of Food Technologists’ FIRST conference with our friends at Bell Flavors & Fragrances,” noted Rochelle Ripp Schnadt, Senior PR Supervisor, on the latest episode of the State of the Plate podcast. “And I think we’re going to continue to see nostalgia popping up on menus because it taps into powerful emotions and memories associated with that food or product.”

Nostalgia activates the parts of the brain that makes us feel good. It elicits positive, comforting emotions, hence the term, “comfort food.” In a world that is ever-changing and often overwhelming, consistency and comfort are desirable qualities in food, especially in the quick-service restaurant (QSR) industry.

two women cooking

Why do we stop at our favorite quick-service establishment after a hectic day? It’s rarely just because we’re hungry. When life is stressful and unpredictable, there is a sense of control and stability when you know that Big Mac® will taste the same as the last Big Mac you had and every Big Mac you’ll have after this.

Bringing back old favorites can bring people back to a simpler time and give them a reason to reconnect with a brand they may have drifted away from. In 2023, McDonald’s reinvigorated interest in its brand by bringing back a character that first appeared in its marketing over 50 years ago. McDonald’s celebrated the birthday of Grimace, its large, purple, milkshake-loving character, with a limited-edition shake that quickly rose to prominence on TikTok.


“We took the nostalgic experience of celebrating birthdays at McDonald’s and repackaged it for a new generation,” said CFO Ian Borden on the Q2 earnings call in 2023. “ It quickly became one of our most socially engaging campaigns of all time, with millions of reactions on our social media posts — a true demonstration of how the power of our brand emerges in organic and creative ways in our fans.”

While the viral user-generated content stemming from Grimace’s birthday celebration was not the intent of the campaign, McDonald’s reaped the benefits of Gen Z’s new attachment to the nostalgic character with an 11.7% sales increase that quarter.

“I look forward to a lot more brands trying to tap into your core memories around food as they work with companies like Bell Flavors & Fragrances that are working really hard to tap into the intersection between nostalgia and flavor,” said Brandon Miller, Creative Director, on the State of the Plate podcast. “I welcome that. I want to be taken back to those places so please keep coming up with flavors that taste like my childhood.”

plate of spaghetti

In the ever-evolving landscape of marketing, nostalgia is a timeless force. Moving forward, the synergy between nostalgia and flavor promises to captivate consumers, beckoning us to revisit the flavors of our fondest memories.

In this episode we talk about the impact of Proposition 12 on the pork industry and consumer market, how the new nostalgia flavor trend takes us back to tastier times, and the movement toward a breakfast-less existence.

Published On: March 12th, 2024Categories: Campaigns and Communication

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