With the Thanksgiving holiday just around the corner, talk around this time usually turns to tradition and family bonds. The diversity of Thanksgiving celebrations across the country is not talked about nearly enough. Still, the image of Thanksgiving that probably comes to mind is one of an extended family gathered around a dining room table with a large turkey in the center. Even if that’s not how you celebrate the holiday, you may think about people traveling back to the cities and states where they grew up to visit far-flung friends. But like everything else about 2020, Thanksgiving this year, for a lot of people, will be unlike any other that they’ve known and nowhere will this shift be more evident than in our nation’s grocery stores.
It’s not that people aren’t going to celebrate Thanksgiving in 2020, but they will be doing so with smaller gatherings. Maybe there will be a place-setting for an iPad so we can break bread virtually, but with 70% of Americans saying they are celebrating the holidays differently this year, the need for 25-pound birds and industrial size boxes of stuffing is going to be more muted. The country’s turkey farmers are feeling this pain, especially since their operations are not easy to scale back in the face of such a rapid drop in demand. But with COVID outbreaks looming, perhaps the problem won’t be too many turkeys, but not enough as many will have to be disposed of if COVID is found in the processing plants.
At the store, grocers are expecting demand to shift away from full birds to turkey breasts, or maybe even to other proteins altogether like whole chickens, roast beef, fish, or (yes) tofurkey. Meanwhile, others may throw in the towel and buy a prepared Thanksgiving meal from their local grocer. Kroger’s research team found that 43% of Americans will only host their immediate families this year, so shopping for Thanksgiving will probably not be all that different for most families than shopping for any other weekly meals.
However, the way we shop for groceries is already changing and straining the capabilities of many grocers who were caught off guard by the surge in digital grocery demand. At the height of the pandemic, digital grocery sales popped 221%, while Coresight Research estimates that at least half of all digital spending growth in the all-important 4th quarter will come from food & beverage retail. There’s no doubt that grocery stores will still be busy this year, despite the change in Thanksgiving traditions. Our advice would be to plan ahead, shop early, and be extra nice to the people picking and delivering your orders. And if you find yourself overwhelmed in the kitchen, don’t be surprised when you get a busy signal on the Butterball hotline.