Thanksgiving celebrations are back in full swing. 97% of U.S. consumers plan to celebrate the late November feast, more than any other holiday, according to a report from consumer research from Numerator. Participation slightly beats out Christmas, which comes in at 96%.
Thanksgiving spending — including food, home decor for the occasion, and any gifts and cards related to the holiday — is expected to rise 3.9% this year, says Neil Saunders, managing director at retail analysis firm Global Data.
Thanksgiving celebrations typically center around eating. 88% of consumers who plan to celebrate the holiday say they expect to purchase food, and 33% expect to purchase alcohol, per Numerator. Intended spending per person is lower than at Christmas, but it handily beats other holidays Numerator included. 35% of consumers who celebrate Thanksgiving expect to spend more than $100. Another 39% expect to spend between $50 and $100. The remaining 25% say they will spend under $25.
How will consumers spend their Thanksgiving budgets?
Prepared meals from Whole Foods and other grocers tend to perform strongly around Thanksgiving because of consumer preference for convenience, Saunders says. However, raw ingredients still make up the bulk of food spending for the holiday. 77% of Thanksgiving meals included completely homemade elements in 2022, consumer behavior research firm Circana found. 34% included some type of ready-to-eat dish from retail, and 33% had a “heat-and-eat” element to the meal. Just 15% of Thanksgiving meals included a ready-to-eat freshly prepared dish.
90% of Thanksgiving meals were sourced from home and retail sources in 2022, Circana found, with the remaining 10% from restaurants and food service vendors.
“After disruption from the pandemic, Thanksgiving spending has normalized. The growth rate is much more aligned with those that we saw before the pandemic and high inflation,” Saunders says.
However, he expects consumers to be price conscious and trade down in certain categories. 34% of consumers say they’re looking out for sales or coupons on Thanksgiving items ahead of the holiday, per Circana.
Retailers are advertising discounts to meet consumer demand, too. BJ’s Wholesale Club will give members a free turkey if they spend $150 in a certain period, and ShopRite is offering a similar deal for a free turkey or ham. Meanwhile, Walmart, Aldi and Target are each advertising discounted Thanksgiving meal bundles.
Non-food Thanksgiving items are expected to perform well this year, Saunders says.
“Gathering with family and friends is firmly back, so people are pulling out the stops to create a nice environment in their homes. Home decorations seem to be particularly popular,” he says.
Inflation hits the Thanksgiving basket
While most consumers say they plan to celebrate Thanksgiving in the same way as previous years, they’re likely to feel it in their wallets. Prices of a typical Thanksgiving basket of goods are up modestly over last year, just 1.7%, according to Circana. However, they remain elevated 27.4% over 2019 prices, and consumers are still feeling the pinch.
Thanksgiving spending growth is more muted this year at 3.9% compared to 6.8% in 2022, but that’s because food inflation has slowed, says Saunders. Global Data projects Thanksgiving will grow slightly more than Christmas spending, predicted at 3.1%.
“While the numbers are similar, there is more scope for people to cut Christmas spending as they are able to buy fewer gifts or reduce gifting budgets. Thanksgiving is harder to compromise on as a lot of the buying is focused on essentials like food,” Saunders says.
Consumer surveys bear out Saunders’ theory. 34% of celebrants told Circana they plan to purchase the same amount of food this year and expect to pay more. 81% of Thanksgiving hosts say they plan to buy the same size turkey or larger than last year in an August survey from turkey brand Butterball.
The November holiday gave retailers a healthy sales boost in 2022. The holiday led to $2.8 billion in food and beverage sales uplift over average weekly sales in 2022, according to Circana. That was a 41% increase in uplift over 2021.
Most Thanksgiving spending historically occurs in the week before and the week of Thanksgiving, according to Circana’s 2023 Thanksgiving Tracker. In 2022, 79% of total sales uplift took place during that period, with the remainder spread over the preceding two weeks. Consumers are most likely to buy entrees like turkey and ham the week before the holiday. Meanwhile, consumers were more likely to buy beverages, baking supplies, and desserts the week of Thanksgiving.
Despite growth in online retail, the majority of Thanksgiving spending still takes place in stores. In 2022, 21% of consumers told Numerator that they shopped online for some of their Thanksgiving purchases. Grocery stores were the most popular destinations, used by 74% of consumers. Online-only retailers were only visited by 10%.
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