November 5, 2020

Holiday gatherings to be small, IRI study shows

IRI studies show people will hold smaller gatherings, if they gather at all, this Thanksgiving. These are among IRI’s new research findings, released today, “Home for the Holidays.”

“Shoppers are navigating the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with a variety of altered behaviors, creating opportunities for manufacturers and retailers that recognize and address these new behaviors quickly,” said Joan Driggs, vice president of Content and Thought Leadership at IRI. “CPG companies that satisfy these changing needs gain the opportunity to attract new shoppers as well as win back shoppers that might have migrated to other brands and/or channels earlier in the pandemic.”

Talking turkey about Thanksgiving

IRI projects turkey sales for Thanksgiving to be strong, with an emphasis on smaller whole birds or cuts. Turkey and roasting meats have enjoyed a sales boom during the pandemic, with the most robust growth among younger and lower-income shoppers.

For Thanksgiving, just 29% of consumers will host or attend a meal with extended family who does not live with them, down from 48% last year, according to IRI’s new research. Also, 34% will prepare a meal just for themselves or their household this year, up from 27% last year. The median number of people sitting at the Thanksgiving dinner table this year will be five, down from eight in 2019.

While shoppers have been purchasing turkey cuts or smaller whole birds, turkey as a category has performed well during the pandemic:

  • Between April and September, shoppers bought turkey nearly four times more often than in the same period in 2019.
  • National sales of turkey are up 19.6%, with 250,000 more pounds sold.
  • Whole bird turkey sales have been particularly strong, up 28%, and $21 million in sales compared to last year.

Higher prices and more people cooking at home will translate to higher food and beverage spending for some households. Still, a more significant number will spend less due to holding either smaller gatherings or no gatherings at all. Just over 20% of those who plan to spend less will buy a smaller turkey, and 15% will not purchase a whole turkey.

December holidays become strictly a family affair

Similar to Thanksgiving, most Americans will likely stay home for the December holidays and celebrate with their immediate family. The number of consumers hosting meals for extended family that doesn’t live with them will drop from 48% in 2019 to 32% this year, while those preparing a special celebration just for themselves or their households will increase to 32% from 27% last year.

This behavior extends to gift-giving and those buying gifts for others outside their household, decreasing from 39% last year to 31% this year. And those buying gifts for themselves or their immediate household will decline to 31% from 35% last year. One-quarter of IRI research respondents will spend less on gifts this year, while just 14% plan to spend more.

Foodservice and restaurants continue to feel the pinch

Foodservice, such as food purchased to consume away from home and food purchased to consume at home, tend to spike in calendar Q4 of each year. This year, food away from home sales will continue to show weakness as cold weather drives consumers indoors while bars and restaurants continue to face social distancing restrictions. As a result of this trend and consumers’ desire to indulge after a difficult 2020, food at home will show stronger sales, giving CPG retailers and brands an additional opportunity to inspire creating at-home celebrations.

The typical spike in restaurant visits will not materialize this year. Restaurant visits have rebounded somewhat and are currently at roughly 50% of their October 2019 level, up from a nadir of 16.5% in April.


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