Coronavirus pandemic boosts comfort foods sales

Americans rely on processed food staples with restaurants closed during quarantine

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Americans are finding comfort in pantry food staples.

Boston-based Nicole Russo has been feeding her family an assortment of pasta dishes like mac and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs and lasagna, cooking mostly with items in her cupboard to avoid having to run to the grocery store to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

Americans are stocking up on more comfort food staples with extended social distancing mandates.

“In these uncertain times, it feels good to eat foods that are comforting,” Russo told FOX Business Wednesday of leaning into heartier meals and desserts while staying safe at home.

In the age of COVID-19, more people are relying on shelf-stable products like canned soups, tuna, beans, rice and frozen meals to sustain them, particularly with nationwide social distancing guidelines extended until at least the end of April.

Before the pandemic broke out, food sales suggested that consumers were buying less processed products in favor of fresh foods and all-natural ingredients. However, now many are resorting to familiar favorites with restaurants closed and the need to have long-lasting items on hand.


General Mills, the parent of household brands like Cheerios, Bisquick and Betty Crocker, has seen an increase in demand for food products across all of its categories, with the most significant uptick in cereal, soup, flour, baking mixes and mac and cheese.

“We’re seeing consumers crave comfort and convenience as they are making more meals at home, which increases the demand for items like Progresso Soup, Hamburger Helper and Annie’s Mac & Cheese,” Kelsey Roemhildt, a spokeswoman for General Mills, wrote FOX Business in an email, adding that the company has renovated its portfolio with nutrition and taste in mind to “meet the changing needs of the consumer.”

Campbell’s soup sales increased 59 percent in the last month from a year earlier; Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers surged almost 23 percent; and pasta sauce label Prego increased 52 percent. And Conagra Brands, the maker of packaged foods like Chef Boyardee pasta, Orville Redenbacher popcorn and Birds Eye Frozen vegetables, said last week it saw “significantly increased demand” in the fourth quarter. And it doesn’t anticipate sales will slow anytime soon.

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
GIS GENERAL MILLS INC. 70.93 +0.10 +0.14%
CAG CONAGRA BRANDS INC. 31.21 -0.06 -0.19%

Nationwide ice cream sales last month increased 50 percent, chocolate sales surged 21 percent and potato chips increased 60 percent, according to Nielsen.

“Fans are leaning on communities, comforts, and something they can control – including going to their favorite brands and foods for a sense of familiarity. That’s where we fit into this ‘new normal,’” Sean Greenwood, a spokesman for the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company, told Fox Business in an email.

Yasamin Haghshenas, an account manager from New York City, would agree. She said she rarely kept ice cream or a stockpile of carb-heavy foods in her apartment before having to self-quarantine. Now, they’re mainstays in her kitchen.


“Since quarantine, I definitely haven’t been keeping track or monitoring the number of sweets or carbs I have,” Haghshenas said. “Now I always have sourdough bread or a pint of ice cream in the fridge for any cravings. I’ve made pancakes and frozen them so I can pop them in the toaster when I want a quick breakfast. And of course, lots of pasta.”

Haghshenas, who is from Durham, North Carolina, originally, says she’s been cooking recipes that are reminiscent of the ones her mom used to make.

“I wasn’t able to go home during all of this and so I’ve been craving a lot of comfort food from my childhood. I’ve been making a lot of Persian rice,” she said.