Innovation Evolution: Nostalgic Taste Trends in Baked Snacks, Cereal, and Confections

by | Aug 31, 2023

Everything old is new again! Some of us thought we’d seen the last of “mom jeans” and bucket hats, but Gen Z’s fascination with the 90s and Y2K shows nostalgia trends are powerful. Thrifted 90s outfits, metallic gel pens, and butterfly clips aren’t the only throwbacks making a comeback. Nostalgic foods and beverages are on grocery store shelves and bringing back memories from days gone by. According to a survey from Let’s Chat Snacks, 70% of people over 65 and 76% of 22 to 55-year-olds love to eat things that remind them of their past.

Let’s examine nostalgia trends and ideas for food and beverage brands to innovate with nostalgic flavors and formats.

Nostalgia Trends

Every Generation Wants To Remember “Good Times”

While Millennials and Gen Z have made headlines with their love for the 90s, every generation has nostalgia for the decades of their youth. A Business Insider article points out we tend to become more nostalgic during hard times. Nostalgia becomes a refuge during economic downturns or global crises. Enjoying your favorite after-school snack or rewatching Saturday morning cartoons brings back feelings of comfort and security.

A GWI’s survey found that

  • 56% of Gen Z look back to the 2000s
  • 61% of Millennials are nostalgic for the 1990s
  • 65% of Gen X reflect on the 1980s
  • 67% of Baby Boomers remember the 1970s

The GWI study also found that Gen Z and Millennials are the most nostalgic generations with 37% of Gen Z and 61% of Millennials turning back to the 1990s specifically. (If you want a more in-depth look at generational food and beverage trends, check out our blogs about how brands can connect with Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers.)

Nostalgia typically cycles through a 30-year pattern. Mintel predicts the next nostalgic wave won’t be for a specific decade, but will focus on years before the COVID pandemic, the “before days.” Something to keep in mind if your food or beverage brand plans to tap into nostalgic trends in the years ahead.

Nostalgia Taps Powerful Emotions

Nostalgia is more than a pleasant feeling or memory of happy times. Research has shown nostalgia is a complex emotion that triggers four sensations in the brain: memory, self-focused contemplation, emotional management, and positivity.

Taste also has a multifaceted connection with memory and emotion. Eating a favorite childhood snack triggers multiple senses and can set off the Proust effect—an involuntary memory triggered by taste or smell. Susan Whitborne, professor of brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts, addressed food nostalgia in a 2017 interview with HuffPost. Whitborne notes “Food memories feel so nostalgic because there’s all this context of when you were preparing or eating this food, so the food becomes almost symbolic of other meaning.”

Nostalgia Gets A Glow-Up

Nostalgic trends don’t have to stay exactly the same. Some classics are getting an update. “Newstalgia” combines the new and the nostalgic, blending the familiar and comforting with a modern take. Food and beverage innovators have an opportunity to update familiar foods with internationally inspired flavors or more healthful variations.

The FlavorSum team saw fun examples of newstalgia at IFT First 2023. The Almond Board of California featured a plant-based choco taco-inspired dessert. The frosty confection included almond-based soft serve inside an almond flour taco shell, topped with almond butter fudge and toasted almonds.

How Are Food and Beverage Brands Incorporating Nostalgia?

Let’s take a look at recent examples of baked snacks, cereals, and confections to see how brands are innovating with nostalgic flavors and formats.

Classic Baked Snacks Make A Comeback

The baked snacks category has a plethora of nostalgic entries. Thanks to individual serving sizes, convenience, and colorful appeal, snacks like Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls, Hostess Cupcakes, and Pizza Rolls are popular school lunch treats or after-school snack staples.

In the last few years, we’ve seen some discontinued favorites make a comeback. In 2020, General Mills reintroduced the popular Dunkaroos, a beloved 90s snack vanilla cookie with vanilla frosting and rainbow sprinkles. The announcement sparked plenty of excitement from Millennials looking forward to reliving their 90s memories. Dunkaroos are also available with a yogurt cup instead of frosting for those who want a healthier option. The official website even features 90s-inspired branding and graphics.

Package of Vanilla Dunkaroos on a teal background


In 2022, Kellogg’s announced the return of the Frosted Grape Pop-Tarts. The grape jelly flavored-filled toaster pastry was part of the original lineup of flavors in 1967 and discontinued in 2017. The brand paired the relaunch with a social media campaign. They called for fifty fans to show off their Grape Pop-Tart-inspired hair on Instagram and use the #Y2GrapeEntry. Winners cashed in on a year’s supply of Grape Frosted Pop Tarts and a “Y2Grape Time Capsule” with butterfly hair clips, metallic jelly pens, grape lip gloss, a purple purse, and a purple hat. The #y2grape has 4.4 million views on TikTok.

retro image of pop tart box on an old cell phone screen


New Take On Favorite Cereals

Breakfast cereal consumption happens not only in the morning but all hours of the day or night. Enhancing a classic cereal with functional benefits, creating a classic snack crossover, or reimagining the prize at the bottom of the box helps cereal remain a versatile pantry staple.

Magic Spoon is a brand offering a new take on the sugary cereals of childhood. Flavors like Fruity, Cocoa, and Cinnamon Roll are fun reminders of Fruit Loops, Cocoa Puffs, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Magic Spoon’s cereals are high protein, keto-friendly, and zero-sugar. Rock climber Natalie Duran reviewed the cereal saying, “Magic Spoon is my adult life and kid life smashed into one fantastic box of cereal.”

front and back of a colorful Magic Spoon cereal box

Last September, General Mills brought back classic cereal mascots as cereal box prizes. Buzz the Bee, Lucky the Leprechaun, Sonny the Cuckoo, and others are sporting 90s fashions and waiting at the bottom of select boxes.

Just in time for the 60th anniversary of Swiss Cake Rolls, Kellogg’s announced a Swiss Cake Roll cereal. The breakfast treat features crisp chocolatey swirls covered in a chocolatey creme-flavored coating. The launch follows other treats made into cereals, including Oatmeal Creme Pie, Cosmic Brownies, and the Nutty Buddy.

box of swiss cake rolls cereal

Fun Confections Bring Back Childhood

People crave candy brands they ate as children. Mintel found that 73% of chocolate and candy eaters in Canada say they prefer the chocolate/candy from their childhoods. Some brands have updated the packaging of classic treats to appeal to a new generation while others have leaned into nostalgic flavors to keep their candy top of mind.

General Mills partnered with PearlFisher to redesign classic fruit snacks like Gushers, Fruit by the Foot, and Fruit Roll-Ups. The new look and contemporized logo appeal to a new generation without losing any of its nostalgic charm for older snackers.

Promo images for Gushers, Fruit by the Foot, and Fruit Roll-Ups

Snickers’ new Butterscotch Scoop flavor may bring to mind colorful candy dishes and grandma’s cozy living room. For this flavor, the classic milk chocolate, peanuts, and caramel are layered with a butterscotch-flavored nougat.

Butterscotch Scoop candy bar

Bring Back Good Times With Your Next Nostalgic Food or Beverage Innovation

Do you have an idea for nostalgic flavor but don’t know where to start? Our flavor and applications experts are here to help you on the road to success. Partner with our team to navigate development hurdles and speed time to market. Just let us know how we can help!