What Item Do You Bring When You’re the Guest of a Gathering?
- 75% bring a dessert or sweet treat
- 63% bring a snack, starter or appetizer
- 60% bring alcoholic beverages
- Only 28% just bring themselves
(Source: Inmar Intelligence)
“It’s still very fluid,” agrees Dave Anderko, supervisor, consumer insights and innovation at Hormel Foods, in Austin, Minn. “Some consumers are likely to go back to the big holiday parties and meals, as they’ve missed them. Others will continue with smaller gatherings that are less stressful [and] easier to manage, and keep gatherings more intimate with their family and friends. Some may continue to have very small gatherings and be cautious.”
Bartelme envisions a similar splintering of occasions. “I can see things getting broken out,” she says. “Out of caution, even if you’re vaxxed, you might not want to risk having a celebration with an older family member, but you may feel comfortable with a Friendsgiving.”
Even if they aren’t seeing everyone this holiday season at big parties, people definitely want to connect in person. “We do see interest overall from consumers who want to spend more time with friends and family, and some people will be looking to the holidays as a reason to get together,” Bartelme predicts. According to Mintel’s latest research, 69% of U.S. consumers won’t miss a chance to celebrate with others, and, underscoring the power of sentiment, the same percentage say that they now realize the importance of holiday celebrations.
Rick Stein, VP of fresh foods for Arlington, Va.-based FMI – the Food Industry Association, agrees. “I think consumers will want to gather, they will want to travel more than they did last year, and they will want to celebrate the fact that they are gathering,” he asserts.
- 86% of consumers say that promotions, rebates and coupons are important when deciding what products to stock their pantries with in the fall.
(Source: Inmar Intelligence)
Specialty food cases are also likely to be an attraction as the holidays approach. If last year’s viral social media posts about charcuterie “houses” (akin to gingerbread houses) are any harbinger, charcuterie offerings are likely to ring up sales for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. “Charcuterie is on trend and for those that want something more celebratory, while still versatile enough for casual or more formal gatherings,” observes Heather Vossler, director of consumer insights and innovation at Hormel, which produces the Columbus line of charcuterie products.
For both side dishes and entrées, the produce section is another time-tested destination during the holidays. Beyond classics like potatoes, green beans, celery, carrots and salad mixes, grocers can point shoppers to different varieties of vegetables and fruits. Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook are particularly good avenues for spotlighting vibrant produce and sharing recipes and serving ideas.
Fresh Meat and Seafood
As the typical centerpiece of holiday meals, meat, poultry and seafood hold an important spot in retailers’ holiday plans.
Given simultaneous and seemingly colliding issues of higher protein costs and large gatherings, grocery stores may have to do a bit of a tightrope walk when planning for meat, poultry and seafood programs this holiday season. Buyers wanting custom cuts will appreciate being able to talk to and order from meat department staff, while other shoppers will pick up case-ready cuts in store or online. Likewise, some people will indulge in prime rib or crown roast of pork, while others may pull back from more expensive cuts.
According to Bartelme, protein may be a category in which shoppers will spend, even if prices are higher. “Things like meat and seafood and all of these premium sorts of things – people want to treat themselves to the main component of the meal, especially on a holiday,” she notes. “I can see people saying, ‘I’m not going to a restaurant anyway, so I will do it up.’”
While beef and pork are often served at holiday feasts, consumers have become pretty adept at cooking seafood since the pandemic began, and may opt for that kind of center-of-the-plate food. According to FMI’s latest “Power of Seafood” report, the seafood department saw a 28.4% jump in sales in 2020, outpacing growth in the produce, meat and deli sections.
Beer, Wine, Liquor and Mixers
For holiday presents and entertaining, adult beverages often bring shoppers into a store. As in past years, grocers that offer beer, wine, liquor and mixers can capitalize on the fact that they’re one-stop shops for those items and other holiday supplies.
Wine is big business during the holiday season, with sales typically hitting a peak between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. As shoppers continue to seek out locally made products and items that meet their interest in different or more intense flavors, craft beers represent a solid opportunity, especially among younger and often male shoppers, who have shown a penchant for craft brews.
2020 was a big year for batched cocktails, usually sold by restaurants that couldn’t offer inside dining. That trend is still going strong in 2021, and grocers can entice shoppers by highlighting ready-to-drink cocktails and mixers, including seasonal or limited-time products rolled out by brands.
Although seltzers and fizzy drinks garner the most attention during spring and summer, many shoppers have a taste for those kinds of products year-round. If not in summer-specific flavors, seltzers in varieties such as cranberry or black cherry can provide a light and refreshing counterpoint to the heavy meals frequently consumed during holidays. Last year, one of the popular advent calendars put out by the Aldi chain included 24 flavors of canned spiked seltzers.
Center Store Favorites
As consumers seek supplies for holiday fare, they’ll home in on the center store, both online and in person. This is where people will find flour for their new hobby of baking, or perhaps discover some interesting new ingredients for making meals, desserts or other dishes.
What Really Matters ...
- 56% of U.S. consumers say that the pandemic has made them want to spend more time with family.
- 41% of U.S. consumers say that the pandemic has made them want to spend more time with friends.
(Source: Mintel, “COVID-19’s Impact on U.S. Consumers,” Summer 2021)
Floral, General Merchandise, Gift Cards
If the grocery store is about holiday food stock-ups, it can also be positioned as a destination for gifts.
As gift cards have become a present of choice for Christmas and other gift-giving holidays, retailers have increasingly put those items front and center. Last year, customers reported spending about 17% more on gift cards than they did in 2019, according to research from Austin, Texas-based InMarket. Another study, from Pleasanton, Calif.-based Blackhawk Network, showed that 52% of consumers were more likely to buy a gift card in 2020 than in other years.
Floral departments also ramp up during the holidays to provide shoppers with centerpieces, gifts for party hosts, and festive home décor. Grocers can add the floral section to the rotation of departments featured in social media content and other communications, both in and beyond the physical store. Here, too, floral teams can get creative, with offerings that include fresh-cut arrangements, seasonal plants like poinsettias and evergreens, and succulents. Depending on COVID-19 restrictions in the area, in-person classes on DIY centerpieces or plant gifts can be a draw for customers.
Make the List, Check it Twice
While they make plans for each department during their own version of holiday prep, grocers can keep in mind other macro-trends and capabilities that can affect the upcoming season.
Given the rise of plant-based eating, retailers can bring plant-based alternatives into the traditional assortment of holiday products. In some recipes, vegan alternatives can be used as substitutes for traditional animal-based products. Holiday hosts may also seek out plant-based options for their guests and family members who are following plant-based diets.
In the meantime, if time and labor allow, the holiday season can be a good time of the year to deploy and evaluate technologies such as workforce scheduling apps, AI-powered insights, or other platforms that help retailers connect with customers and streamline their in-store and e-commerce operations. A period of higher traffic and customer demand provides opportunities to determine the effectiveness of tools and technologies, which are only going to increase in implementation and use in the coming years.