Comfort eating has taken on a new meaning in these downbeat, recessionary times.

In their presentation coinciding with Asda's fourth-quarter figures, chief executive Andy Bond and marketing strategy director Jon Owen provided some fascinating insights into the consumer mindset of the moment and how that's been reflected in buying habits.

They've picked up on a strong sense of nostalgia among shoppers, who are snapping up brands associated with happy memories and security, such as Bird's custard and Heinz tomato soup.

The buying trend is reflected in non-food too. Products such as playing cards, snakes and ladders and family-oriented DVDs such as Home Alone 2 have been flying off the shelves.

It all chimes with the mood of the credit crunch. There's a sense of high anxiety as consumers fret over the implications of economic crisis, worry about how long they'll have a job and think more carefully before spending. It's not surprising that products associated with less fraught times are in demand.

The trend has helped branded product outpace own-label. That revelation seems at odds with reports from other food retailers about how important their own-brands - especially value lines - are proving in the downturn. But in fact there's no contradiction.

Bond said that in the 12 weeks to the end of January sales of branded product rose 10 per cent year-on-year, while own-label rose 8 per cent - so there's been growth in both, and the outperformance of one has by no means put the other into reverse.

The common link is surely value. The value of products such as Bird's custard is partly emotional, helping rekindle a warm feeling in the cold of the downturn. The value of own-label is directly quantifiable in shoppers' purses.

In “a time of concern and fear”, said Bond, shoppers are seeking “real, transparent value”. Those retailers, food or otherwise, that provide that will be the winners. And by providing such value, retailers will help rebuild shattered consumer confidence - essential for people to start spending more freely once again.