Food Nostalgia

Why are many food/drink brands focusing on old-fashioned and nostalgic imagery in their advertising? What message does this send to consumers? Lamberto from MindMover has been analysing the reasons behind this and what a focus on nostalgia says about our modern culture.



Food Nostalgia


All good researchers and analysts know that brands and culture influence and inspire each other in a flow of constant and mutual relation: brands pick up on cultural trends and adapt them to communicate their relevance; great brands shape culture, allowing users to make a statement about who they are.

Part of a cultural analyst's work is finding these patterns and links between people – culture – and brands.

Analysing brands' communications and trends on one hand, and listening to people's opinions in focus groups and online discussions on the other, I started noticing a recurring theme that shows up in many forms, but which we can gather under the evocative name of Nostalgia.

Embodied in supermarket brands whose names recall the ‘good old days’ of buying fresh from farms, in new "old" car models and the return of the facial hairstyles of yesteryear, Nostalgia has become a strong and persistent element in every market and, in particular, in food & beverage communications.

Coca Cola remastered its commercial from the 70s; Tesco connected its new product lines with farms; Bonne Maman adopted hand-written labels. These are just some examples of what the market is telling us: we as consumers are longing for an earlier, simpler time, and we’re willing to turn to brands which can evoke that powerful nostalgia.

According to the sociologist B. S. Turner, nostalgia involves four dimensions:

  • A sense of decline and loss
  • A melancholic vision of the contemporary world based on a perceived crisis in our civilization resulting in lost references and values
  • A sense of loss of individual freedom and autonomy
  • The idea of a loss of simplicity, authenticity and emotional spontaneity in a mass consumption culture

In the context of economic crisis, national and international migration processes, deep changes in our lifestyles and with a growing mistrust of industrialisation, it is easy to spot these traits in our society. Our future is often depicted as dystopian and our present is marked by a sense of insecurity.

In this cultural landscape, the past is seen as a better time: slower, quieter, with less waste and less stress. For food and beverages, the past becomes a green and fresh period, when everything was tastier and healthier, when people and production were close to each other and to nature and when "organic" and "local" food did not exist for the simple reason that everything was local and organic. Slow food, local veg boxes, stone-ground flour, blue potatoes and farmers markets are just some of the ways the market has responded to consumers’ nostalgic needs.

However, humans are paradoxical creatures and even with these strong nostalgic feelings and the desire for the past, we are not willing to go back to lower sanitary standards, to give up our imported food or the benefits offered by modern technology.

As Woody Allen said through Gauguin in the movie Midnight In Paris:

"Nostalgia is denial - denial of the painful present. The name for this denial is golden age thinking - the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in - it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present".

Therefore, the question brands should ask themselves is not how to communicate a nostalgic past, but how to reflect past values to help consumers coping with their not so idyllic, but totally realistic, present.

Nostalgia and its links with heritage (which we will explore in future articles) conjures up deep, personal feelings for people. Brands that romanticise this sense of nostalgia need to understand its importance in order to improve their communications and services.

The aim is not to bring back the past, but to draw upon it to create progress that consumers can fall in love with!

To find out more about how MindMover’s findings from cultural analysis in the retail industries, contact or call 44 (0) 203 176 0729