Holiday Entertaining Guide: Spring & Summer Edition

Grocers and brands offer a host of solutions for celebrations that draw shoppers
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Easter Brunch
To appeal to consumers planning to celebrate spring holidays with varying degrees of budgets, grocers offer a range of meal solutions and catering options.

There’s pretty much an observance for everything these days — like National Melba Toast Day (March 23) and National Crayon Day (March 31) — but retailers do have several key opportunities to lift sales for popular upcoming holidays.

Following a busy February in which the Super Bowl, Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day took place in rapid succession, grocers are redirecting their assortments and promotions for spring and early-summer holidays that involve at-home entertaining. Looking ahead, plans are already in motion for the peak holiday season in the fourth quarter.

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Party On

To be sure, U.S. consumers like special occasions. According to the “2024 Holiday Intentions” study from Chicago-based data and tech company Numerator, nearly all consumers said that they’ll buy something for holiday celebrations. Nine in 10 shoppers said that they’ll make a purchase related to a given holiday, and a third expected to spend between $50 and $100 per holiday throughout the year. 

Numerator’s data also affirmed that supermarkets are top shopping destinations for holidays. As for what consumers are buying when they’re in stores or online, the insights company found that food is the most popular item that shoppers intended to purchase for 10 of the 14 major holidays, followed by alcohol.

While they’re spending on food, drink and other supplies for holiday celebrations, shoppers remain mindful of elevated prices, even as inflation has declined from its 2022 peak. “Beyond inflation, 2023 was a difficult year for consumers,” observes Mike Scavuzzo, sales director, emerging brands at Numerator. “The end of SNAP benefits and the return of student loan payments put even more pressure on consumer spending that will likely carry into 2024.”

Mike Kostyo, VP at Chicago-based food industry consulting firm Menu Matters, agrees that the industry isn’t out of the woods yet when it comes to price-related mindsets and behaviors, even among consumers keen on celebrating. “Inflation and high prices are absolutely still weighing on consumers’ minds ahead of big holidays and entertaining occasions,” affirms Kostyo. “As we were heading into this year, well over half of consumers said they had experienced sticker shock from a food purchase in the past year, and grocery prices continue to stay stubbornly high, so there’s hasn’t been much relief.” 

There are many ways for grocers and brands to connect with shoppers balancing price consciousness with an enthusiasm for entertaining. “Where we see favorability for consumers will be through increased frequency and depth of promotions to drive unit volume, which has been soft over the past 12 months,” says Scavuzzo, adding, “Retailers and brands that partner to prioritize affordability will win with consumers during the 2024 holiday season.”

St Pierre Groupe
To appeal to shoppers who want to celebrate conveniently, grocers can promote heat-and-eat offerings like brioche waffles from St Pierre Groupe.

Spring Ahead

The top spring holidays kick off in March with St. Patrick’s Day as grocers promote Irish meal staples like corned beef, fresh cabbage, potatoes and soda bread, along with adult beverages like beer and Irish whiskey. It may be a smaller holiday, mainly observed in areas with big Irish populations like New York City, Boston and Chicago, but March 17 still brings retailers some luck: According to the Washington, D.C.-based National Retail Federation (NRF), more consumers than ever celebrated St. Paddy’s Day in 2023, spending an average of $43.84.

Next up on the major spring holiday list are historically religious observances that bring shoppers to grocery stores as they get ready to entertain family and friends. Easter, set for March 31 this year, remains a major retail occasion, while Passover, starting on April 23, is a food-centric observance. The celebration of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, is a festive occasion that involves meals at home, too, along with sweets that are popular after a period of fasting. 

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In a recent webinar on spring 2024 trends Jaclyn Marks, a “trendologist” at Chicago-based Datassential, said that those holidays are important for grocers. “Among consumers who celebrate Easter and Passover, 85% celebrate with meals at home,” she noted.

Recent data from Chicago-based insights firm Circana uncovered similar sentiments. According to a February Circana survey of primary grocery shoppers, a quarter of consumers planned to prepare a special meal for themselves or their household for Easter or Passover, and 19% said that they would host or attend a meal with extended family members who don’t live with them.  

In its seasonal analysis of first-quarter holidays, New York-based Coresight Research noted that about two-thirds of consumers planned to celebrate Easter this year. Grocers can take heart from another Coresight statistic: Nearly 32% of consumers who plan to mark the holiday intended to spend more than last year. 

To appeal to consumers planning to celebrate these spring holidays with varying degrees of budgets, grocers offer a range of meal solutions and catering options, similar to their fall and winter holidays. Retailers such as Whole Foods Market, Wegmans and The Fresh Market, for example, offer a variety of seasonal prepared foods for Easter and Passover, and also share occasion-based recipes and entertaining tips. 

Food retailers can carry over Easter brunch ideas for Mother’s Day, another prime holiday for entertaining at home. An overwhelming majority of 84% of U.S. adults celebrate that occasion, according to NRF. In addition to the perennially popular breakfast in bed or brunch meals for moms, grocers also ramp up promotions and offerings in the floral department as a way to celebrate mothers, grandmas and others who are maternal figures.

Another occasion that has been gaining steam in recent years is Cinco De Mayo. While many people go out for that occasion, grocers typically feature an array of Mexican and Latin American products for May 5, including food and beverages. 

Hormel Foods
Brands are making it easier for consumers to entertain by offering kits and bundles, like Hormel Foods' new spring-themed Honey Ham & Turkey tray.

According to Kostyo, retailers can get creative with these holidays. “St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo are social occasions, so create deal packs that serve multiple people and offer fun engagements that can grab attention,” he advises. “Can a retailer mark down everything green in their store for one day? Can you do an on-trend prepared food offering like birria tacos paired with a Mexican beer or tequila option, two of the fastest-growing categories in alcohol?” 

Other late-spring and early-summer holidays are ripe for entertaining, with graduation season, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Juneteenth and the Fourth of July often synonymous with get-togethers. Given the season, grilling and outdoor food and beverage staples are at the heart of retail features and promotions. “The grilling category has come a long way, with consumers investing in elaborate pellet smokers and propane griddles, so are you making sure your offerings align with those consumer needs for Memorial Day or Father’s Day?” asks Kostyo.  

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Make a Day of It

In addition to gearing up for standard spring and summer holidays, retailers can take another shot at boosting sales by highlighting other occasions that warrant some kind of entertaining. 

“Consumers today love to celebrate an occasion together,” asserts Kostyo. “Because of social media and the need for content, we see consumers getting excited about previously mundane holidays like Groundhog Day. Brands and grocers should use these as an opportunity.” 

Other low-key occasions with some potential for sales lifts are sprinkled throughout the calendar. 

Over the past few years, Pi Day (March 14) has garnered attention in the bakery and the dessert freezer case. Large parties aren’t the norm, but a shopper may want to purchase a celebratory pie, with ice cream to go with it, to commemorate this math-oriented day.
Meanwhile, Derby Day, set for May 4 this year, can inspire gatherings with relevant fare like mint juleps or Kentucky bourbon pie.

Scavuzzo says that grocers can pursue shoppers who are apt to celebrate such days more spontaneously. “Impulse, impulse impulse,” he emphasizes, citing Numerator’s data showing that events like Cinco De Mayo have high purchase spontaneity. “What this says is that there is a willingness to spend, but it isn’t top of mind for consumers. Knowing that, it becomes crucial for retailers to provide prime in-store real estate to drive impulse purchases and brands to support it.”

That said, grocers and CPGs may want pick and choose promotions carefully. “It’s also important for brands not to overextend — today’s consumer is particularly adept at sniffing out inauthenticity,” cautions Scavuzzo. 

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