Originally printed in the November 2020 issue of Produce Business.
By Rick Stein, Vice President, Fresh Foods, FMI, The Food Industry Association
A lot of memorable times happen around a dining table. When you think back to the holidays and special family occasions of your youth, chances are you’ll conjure up images of loved ones and friends passing dishes, swapping stories and making toasts. Perhaps you made or listened to a special announcement while eating together as a family or group. You probably remember times when friends, neighbors and potential new in-laws joined in mealtime and conversation.
The dining room table – and the kitchen where meals are made – comprise the true heart of the home, where people interact over food and drink on holidays and every day.
Of course, we’re heading into a very unique kind of holiday season this year. Time around the table will look different for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve and Day.
Many gatherings will likely be smaller and local, as fewer people travel and as families try to adhere to healthcare and government guidelines.
The way shoppers are buying for the holidays, including Thanksgiving, are outside the norm in 2020, too. People aren’t shopping as frequently, and when they go to the grocery store, they’re stocking up more than usual. Concerned about product availability, some consumers began buying Thanksgiving staples like canned green beans, canned pumpkin and canned cranberry sauces as early as mid-October, when stores first started merchandising such goods.
As Thanksgiving grows closer, we’re expecting in-store shoppers to pick up more perishable foods for their big dinners, including potatoes, onions, celery, fresh beans, fresh cranberries and other similar produce items. Their baskets and basket rings will likely be bigger than Thanksgiving holidays past, as they stock up on everyday goods as well, to avoid long lines and crowded aisles.
In a year when online shopping has spiked, it’s likely that digital orders for Thanksgiving supplies will be higher compared to 2019. Now that consumers are familiar with platforms and retailers they trust to provide quality products and service for delivery and pickup, they can utilize online buying for their holiday prep, in addition to, or in place of, in-person shopping.
As Thanksgiving grows closer, we’re expecting in-store shoppers to pick up more perishable foods for their big dinners, including potatoes, onions, celery, fresh beans, fresh cranberries and other similar produce items.
As this busy and decidedly different season approaches, there are ways that you can make spirits bright and lift sales at the same time:
Convey convenience: Let customers know their options for in-store shopping and online pickup and delivery. Emphasize the quality of your fresh produce that they can choose themselves in store or entrust a store buyer to choose for them.
Tap into the culinary renaissance: A lot of people went back into the kitchen this year as they ate out less frequently and sharpened their cooking skills. Thanksgiving and the other upcoming holidays are a prime opportunity to show off this new or rediscovered cooking prowess, with dishes that combine traditional fare with something more elevated: homemade stuffing versus boxed stuffing, for example, or caramelized bacon-studded Brussels sprouts in addition to the annual green bean casserole. This might be the year that customers make a pumpkin pie from scratch with pie pumpkins instead of a canned pumpkin or picking up a store-made pie. Show them how they can get creative by providing tips and recipes.
Focus on freshness: As consumers buy more food less often, they may encounter issues with produce spoiling before it is used. Help them understand the requirements of different fruits and vegetables and how to extend the shelf life of those products. Where and how should certain fruits and vegetables be stored? What is the best window of time for consumption? Can they be frozen, and how should they be frozen?
With the pandemic expected to last through and beyond the holidays, it is as important as ever to get a healthy foundation by eating fruits and vegetables. Emphasizing the nutritional benefits of fresh produce is another approach to serving consumers well.
Finally, by focusing on quality time together, the unique 2020 memories to be made, the benefits of healthy eating and the sheer enjoyment of food itself, families can find a way to turn this year’s Thanksgiving and holiday season into something positive. On behalf of FMI, thank you for your role in providing sustenance to consumers all over the country and world.
Comments and Analysis
Giving Thanks In Different Ways
By Jim Prevor, Editor-in-chief, Produce Business
Normally we insist that our Research Perspectives column include a lot of hard data. This month, we are fortunate to have Rick Stein at the Food Marketing Institute’s (FMI) contributing on a subject that has very little hard data: How, in a pandemic, will the food consumption pattern of consumers differ from in years past during the holiday season?
USA Today quoted one iconic retailer on the subject:
“’We’re looking to decrease the number of turkeys over 16 pounds and stock 20% more turkeys under 16 pounds this year,’ said Stew Leonard Jr., President and CEO of Stew Leonard’s.”
The Washington Post ran an article in which a Kroger representative explained that company executives are speculating the iconic turkey may itself fall victim to the new dynamics:
“Kroger supermarket chain, also anticipating an uptick in first-time holiday cooks, projects an increase in demand for other, more familiar proteins like ham, beef, pork roast and seafood, will cut into turkey’s dominance, says Kristal Howard, director of corporate communications.”
The Chicago Tribune spoke with Chicago’s largest retailer to find out their plans:
“Jewel-Osco also expects bigger holiday sales — and more crowded aisles — as people travel less and shuttered restaurant dining rooms scuttle holiday dining out plans.
But it’s unclear if shoppers will stick to tradition or start new ones or what product sizes they’ll want for smaller gatherings, and that has made it hard to plan, said Mark Bristow, meat and seafood sales manager at Jewel-Osco, Chicago’s largest grocery chain by store count.
To prepare for all scenarios, Jewel-Osco bought close to 20% more turkeys and hams than previous years, including 30% more hens under 16 pounds, Bristow said.
It also is ready with prime rib roasts, pork roasts, sausage, ground beef and meatless options in case customers want to try something different. It stocked up on lobster tails, crab legs and shrimp, and anticipates selling more seafood this year than any on record.
The greatest angst for many retailers is ensuring there is enough product available. COVID-19 outbreaks at meat processing plants in April and May came during prime time for turkey processing, leading to harvest delays and heavier birds, and supply of smaller birds is tight.
As a result, Jewel-Osco will not be making its usual donations of turkeys to charities during the holidays, Bristow said.”
Over at the New York Times, one article pointed out that many people now live alone:
“Thanksgiving and the holidays that follow are going to look different for everyone this year, but for those who live alone, these changes might hit particularly hard.
There are an estimated 35.7 million single-person households in America — roughly one-third of all total households — according to data collected in 2018 by the U.S. Census Bureau.”
There is some likelihood that actual holiday meals, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, will see an increase in food utilized and produced. People who are fighting to maintain some normalcy may still make a turkey, whip up some sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top and create other holiday favorites.
People will Zoom together with family members unable to travel and will want to show off their holiday bounty. Most likely, they will make too much food, and so the leftovers will be bountiful post-holidays, which may well depress shopping, even more so than usual.
My mother, may she rest in peace, always filled our home on holidays with family and friends, but if she ever heard that someone we knew had nowhere to go and was going to be alone, she invited them to our home to share our bountiful table. In actuality, though, she cooked extra for each person, even sometimes adding dishes she thought they would like.
Under current circumstances, it seems unlikely we would be Zooming with such casual acquaintances and even less likely that doing so would result in as much in food purchases as when Mom was focused on delighting every person at the table.
Much depends on whether this year’s events are a one-time exception or some kind of new normal. And that depends heavily on the availability and effectiveness of a new vaccine this winter.
Let us hope things go well, that people’s safety can be secured, that this year’s pandemic will become a memory, a story told to unbelieving children and grandchildren of a time when our holiday celebrations were disrupted by disease.
And may those children, grandchildren and great grandchildren never know of a time when we could not gather with loved ones lest a contagion infect them. May, even in the midst of a pandemic, we still manage to give thanks for all we have and all we can be thankful for.