From turkeys to big clan gatherings to driving to Grandma’s house, Thanksgiving is looking pretty different this year. Take, for example, the situation with turkeys: The Washington Post reports that after 50 years of steadily increasing demand for Thanksgiving turkeys, businesses and farmers are predicting diminished consumer demand for large turkeys this year as the COVID-19 pandemic endures through the holiday season and consumers opt for virtual or smaller gatherings. The article notes, “Social distancing and travel challenges will mean more, smaller holiday gatherings this November — thus smaller home-cooked turkeys on the table, fewer holiday restaurant reservations and, in an increasing number of households, no turkey at all.”

Our own research regarding the upcoming holidays finds that with so much in flux in the world around us, consumers aim to keep traditions alive: compared to Halloween (which many consumers said they were willing to reinvent with an eye toward safety), Thanksgiving and the December holidays, in particular, are times when consumers say they traditionally like to “celebrate the holiday to the fullest.”  But of course, even though traditions are sacred, consumers admit that size matters and many recognize that holidays like Thanksgiving will be different and scaled back.

These findings were echoed in another recent Hartman Group research study conducted for FMI — The Food Industry Association that saw nearly a third of Americans (30%) saying they were planning to do less this Thanksgiving than in previous years. Two common changes Americans are making in their Thanksgiving this year are getting together with fewer people (33%) and avoiding long-distance travel or travelers (26%). 19% of consumers said they were planning virtual Thanksgiving gatherings. For many, safety is paramount: 76% said they will consider this Thanksgiving a success if they avoid the health and safety risks of COVID-19. 

While the pandemic has upended many aspects of the food and beverage industry (including Thanksgiving turkeys and plans for the holiday itself), many consumers are looking forward to the sense of normalcy and grounding that holiday traditions bring, even if festivities for many this year look different. With regard to small turkeys: previous years have shown a trend toward smaller birds that predates the pandemic, driven in part by declining family sizes, but this year’s festivities will likely involve additional choices for items like ready-to-eat turkey parts, smoked turkeys, alternative proteins and more prepared sides and dishes. While fresh turkey suppliers will face intense challenges in the coming months, the food industry itself will likely continue to adapt to meet unprecedented shifts in consumer demand this holiday season.

Further Information:

Hartman Group white paper download: Happy Holidays?