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Grocers, Food Companies Gear Up for a Very Different Big Game

Smaller gatherings will dominate, and foodies see a split between traditional favorites and trials of new flavors
Photograph: Shutterstock

Even as COVID-19 restrictions relax in some parts of the country, smaller gatherings still will be the name of the game on football's biggest day this year.

In response, grocery retailers and vendors are adjusting their promotional game plans, banking on consumer interest in a couple of divergent areas: snacking on familiar Big Game favorites, such as wings, pizza, chili, etc., and a willingness to try new flavors and less-traditional choices given that consumers won't be looking to feed a dozen or more fellow football fans.

When there's no big crowd to please, consumers feel more free to opt for their personal favorites or go out on a culinary limb, said Evan Inada, director of charcuterie for Columbus Craft Meats. "I think there’s going to be less risk to trying new things," he said. Columbus, for its part, is looking to capitalize on growing consumer interest in charcuterie by promoting its Charcuterie Tasting Board, which debuted at the end of 2019. The board features two varieties of Columbus salami, plus aged white Cheddar cheese, chocolate-covered cranberries, olives and multigrain crackers. 

A bucket of sticky chicken wings it's not, but for consumers looking to step up their Big Game snacking game, and with the convenience of a no-prep platform, a ready-to-go charcuterie board can fit the bill, Inada said.

Sabra Dipping Co. is taking a similar tack, with the hummus purveyor earlier this month debuting the Create Your Own Play snack kit. The kit, created in partnership with vegan celebrity chef Charity Morgan, consists of a 17-ounce tub of Sabra hummus, Cholula hot sauce, Triscuit crackers, McCormick Gourmet Organic Shawarma Seasoning, McCormick Gourmet Organic Harissa Seasoning, and chickpea sun- and football-shaped spice stencils.

Stencils? But of course, for that perfect game-day party-food pic. 

Don't knock the Instagram component of the Big Game, Inada said. "I think people on social media especially want to showcase, 'Hey, we’re still doing stuff,' " for the game, he said, and personal riffs on familiar favorites can let consumers showcase their creativity and foster that real-time sense of a shared experience—whether they're having a Zoom game-watching party or just feeding their Twitter feeds.

The twists-on-a-classic theme is one that Hormel (parent of Columbus Craft Meats) is hoping to seize, as well. Consumers nostalgic for Hormel chili—but who maybe didn't want to bring a pot of it to their Big Game gathering in years past—are free to enjoy it as they please this year, said Steve Venenga, VP of marketing for grocery products at Hormel. Chili dog with cheese? Spam wontons? Why not, Venenga said. Many of Hormel's brands were growing pre-pandemic, he said, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, "we were rediscovered," including by some shoppers who had left the brand entirely but were hungry for a taste of nostalgic comfort. 

On the grocer side, Giant Eagle is among the retailers touting both twists-on-a-fan-favorite recipes (Italian sub pizza, pierogi casserole) and no-fuss frozen snacks (private-label mozzarella sticks and breaded zucchini discs). Hy-Vee is aiming to help game-watchers with their snack and beverage selections with a snacks and craft beer pairing guide. And Boston-based Stop & Shop teamed with "Top Chef" runner-up and hometown favorite restaurateur Tiffani Faison for fresh-flavored Big Game recipes, including grilled tandoori chicken drums.

Consumers craving familiar flavors but looking for them in a meatless format or made with ingredients that meet their dietary preferences have a broadening array of options this year, as well. Trader Joe's soy chorizo made the grocer's just-released, 12th annual Customers Choice Awards list (category: favorite vegan/vegetarian item), and TJ's promotes the product as an ideal choice for tacos. 

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