Buttery burgers from Burger King, Jack in the Box
Butter consumption has increased inspiring burger innovation like Burger King's Extra Long Buttery Cheeseburger and Jack in the Box's Buttery Jack burger.

Comfort food comeback

Menus are in the midst of a big “fat” revolution, Ms. Kruse said, and millennials are leading the charge, having concluded animal fats have been unfairly demonized. These consumers are more likely than older generations to use lard, beef tallow and duck fat, she said.

“In the last 50 years, animal fats have been public dietary enemy No. 1,” Ms. Kruse said. “What I think is most interesting here is that the highest increases in consumption are in households with kids. Why? Because there’s the image of minimal processing.”

Butter consumption has increased 25% over the past decade, giving way to such fast-food burger innovation as the Extra Long Buttery Cheeseburger from Burger King and the Buttery Jack burger from Jack in the Box, which became the chain’s most popular limited-time offer in 20 years, Ms. Kruse said.

And speaking of fat, fried foods remain a comfort food favorite.

“We continue to have a love affair with fried foods,” she added. “First, because they taste so darn satisfying. Secondly, because from your perspective as operators, this is an area where consumers really don’t feel comfortable at home. We’re not adept at making great fried chicken.”

KFC Nashville hot chicken
Nashville hot fried chicken is having a moment on menus.

Nashville hot fried chicken, in particular, is having a moment on menus, appealing to consumer interest in regional cuisine. 

Other comfort foods making a comeback are bologna, starring in gourmet sandwiches in a handful of independent restaurants, and porridge. And then there’s congee, a familiar comfort food for Asian diners, Ms. Kruse said.

“It seems to me that one of the things I find as connective tissue through all of the items we have looked at is that they really deliver across generations,” Ms. Kruse said. “In other words, it’s frequently the case that a millennial diner will find something interesting and fun but it’s new, whereas the baby boomer may get a sense of nostalgia and recognition. These are foods that speak to us.”