COVID-19 continues to disrupt Thanksgiving and holiday plans but to a lesser extent than in 2020

Roasted turkey with gravy for Thanksgiving

Last year at this time, as we moved out of some of the worst days of the pandemic, we predicted that the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday in 2020 would be “safer and smaller,” stemming from both Hartman Group 2020 holiday research and results taken from the ninth Hartman Group/FMI COVID-19 Tracker, which we just updated recently.

This year’s latest Hartman Group/FMI Tracker (U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends Tracker: Holidays) reflects back on 2020 and notes, “the typical sequence of

The Food Association Holiday Tracker - Research by The Hartman Group
Source: FMI—The Food Industry Association U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends Tracker: Holidays - Research by The Hartman Group

fall/winter holiday celebrations was disrupted by pandemic-driven social distancing. A year later in 2021, the pandemic continues to cast a winter shadow, but fewer U.S. shoppers say they will curtail their social activities. In fact, more adults this year say they typically celebrate each holiday ‘to the fullest,’ reflecting an elevated enthusiasm and higher ambitions for the season ahead.”

With regards to Thanksgiving, the FMI Trends Tracker: Holidays finds that despite pandemic concerns, most Americans say they plan to celebrate Thanksgiving to the same extent as they usually would. About half of shoppers indicate that COVID-19 will affect their holiday plans in some way, with 22% noting that they will be celebrating less than usual. Households with kids are even more likely to report some type of pandemic impact.

Per Trends Tracker: Holidays, planning ahead is a prevailing theme in preparation for Thanksgiving this year. Shoppers typically plan for Thanksgiving and shop differently around the holiday, including buying meat they don’t normally purchase, shopping in advance and shopping different stores. This year, even more shoppers plan to shop earlier for food (18%), and 11% plan to learn to make something new. Despite the 24% who plan to get together with fewer people, it appears that more may be getting together in person. Compared to 2020, fewer people are planning to reduce the size of their gatherings or to hold virtual events.

Going forward, with high stakes and elevated holiday expectations, many shoppers plan to start their shopping earlier than normal, while others may roll with the punches. Just under half say they would try something new or look for a new recipe (47% and 33% respectively) if items they seek are out of stock. Others will turn to either the grocer's fresh-prepared department (22%) or turn to a restaurant (18%) to fulfill their needs.

Interested in how American meals and cooking preparations are changing? The Hartman Group’s syndicated study currently fielding, At the Dining Table: American Meals and Cooking 2021, explores the full spectrum of meal approaches consumers are using today, from scratch cooking (and the skills and tools involved) to lighter preparation touches to outsourcing from grocery or food service as well as mixed-mode approaches.

More information on the FMI U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends Tracker: Holidays is available here.