Keith Nunes 2019  KANSAS CITY — Customizing the consumer’s experience has been a key ingredient for the success of foodservice operators for decades. Now, as food spending post-pandemic has shifted to more at-home eating, food and beverage product developers are seeking to deliver similar customizable experiences.

Surprising and delighting consumers has long been a goal of food and beverage product developers, but now innovators are striving to elevate the experiences their innovations provide at home. Some consumers have shown a willingness to trade quick-and-easy convenience for the personal reward of customization.

Appliance makers have been on the leading edge of this trend for years. The counters and cabinets of many kitchens across the country feature a blend of specialized coffee makers, air fryers, bread makers, customizable carbonated beverage makers and other specialized food-making systems.

But, at the food company level, the focus on at-home customization has been a slowly emerging trend. To see it materializing, it’s instructive to look at the at-home coffee category.

“With COVID, people were home and they started making their own cold coffees,” Tina Meyer-Hawkes, vice president of liquid coffee venture for the J.M. Smucker Co., told Food Business News in January. “In a way, they created a movement that changed the definition of coffee at home. The end experience is coffee is more of an ingredient in the finished product.”

The shift and the insights that followed have rippled through Smucker’s coffee innovation pipeline and led to the launch of cold-coffee concentrate innovations and an expansion into liquid products. The company’s goal is to give consumers the tools to craft customized coffee experiences.

Following Smucker’s lead other coffee makers also are innovating to capitalize on the at-home customization trend, with Danone North America introducing a cold foam creamer under its International Delight brand and Restaurant Brands International introducing a cold-brew concentrate under its Tim Hortons banner, to name a few.

Other companies are dipping their toes into the at-home customization trend in other categories. The Kraft Heinz Co. and Taco Bell, a Yum! Brands business, for example, launched the Taco Bell at Home product line earlier this year. Each kit features Taco Bell ingredients, seasonings and sauces to allow consumers to recreate and even customize Taco Bell menu items at home.

The startup True Scoops has launched a powdered ice cream mix as a shortcut to churning homemade ice cream. Consumers can prepare the mix in a bowl with a mixer and can add spices and mix-ins to customize each batch. Once frozen, each batch is a personalized indulgence.

The challenge facing those chasing the trend is identifying the product traits that excite consumers or trigger feelings of nostalgia to the degree that transcends the default preference for convenience that this trend works against. Customization is a form of personalization, and achieving scale by catering to the market means constantly meeting consumers where they are rather than where they’ve been. Admittedly, it is a difficult task to achieve, but it may be rewarding for those that succeed.