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How will consumers prepare holiday meals in 2021?

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Last year’s fall and winter came with many challenges as the first holiday season of the pandemic, especially because the COVID-19 vaccine was yet to be widely available. Many families had celebrations in their own homes, rather than traveling, and opted to make smaller home-cooked meals as a result. With more consumers planning to travel this year -- within 5% of 2019 travel volume levels, according to AAA -- this means that many people will be preparing their typical Thanksgiving meals again. 

Thanksgiving shopping faces obstacles

The pandemic continues to have lasting effects on many businesses through nationwide supply chain disruptions, and the food and beverage industry is no exception. Food retailers and manufacturers are facing higher costs for materials and ingredients, transportation backlogs, workforce scarcity and more in terms of supply chain disruptions. As consumers have felt the recent effects of these issues, many have been getting a head start on their holiday meal planning.

“More than ever before, consumers are planning ahead for Thanksgiving by shopping early for key items, driving a 4% sales lift of the entire edible category for the week ending Oct. 31, 2021,” Krishnakumar Davey, president of client engagement for market research firm IRI, told to Deli Market News.

IRI released its Thanksgiving-related grocery insights and found that roughly a third of those surveyed said they were stocking up on Thanksgiving products this early because they feared facing out-of-stock products. Shoppers have been seeking out turkey, broth/stock, stuffing and pie filling, according to IRI.

The Consumer Brands Association and other industry experts recognize that there have been shortages of products at retailers, but they also assure consumers that there is no need to return to the early pandemic consumption habits like pantry-loading.

Katie Denis, Consumer Brands vice president of research and industry narrative, shared with People that the trade group asserts there will be enough product available, but shoppers will likely need to be flexible on pricing, sizes and brands. Inflation will likely mean that holiday staple foods and even non-food goods such as napkins may have a higher price tag this year, but it is important to buy only what you need so that everyone will be able to buy what’s on their grocery list.

Brands present convenient holiday options

While many people will return to making a large, classic Thanksgiving meal this year, not everyone is interested in taking hours to make a home-cooked meal. For those who are seeking out an alternative, several companies are rising to meet these consumers' desires. 

In 2020, meat processing company Perdue Farms debuted its Thanksnuggets product in two varieties: white meat turkey nuggets with sweet potato seasoned breading and dark meat + cranberry nuggets with stuffing flavored breading. Both offerings sold out online within three minutes.

“We’re always looking for new ways to meet consumer needs, and after the overwhelming response to Perdue Thanksnuggets last year, we knew we had to bring them back and ensure more consumers could get their hands on a bag,” said Jon Swadley, vice president of marketing for Perdue Premium Prepared Foods.

While the frozen CPG product could be a replacement for Thanksgiving dinner, Swadley adds that the nuggets are an excellent appetizer or an easy and delicious offering for a Friendsgiving celebration. 

“The holidays can be stressful, especially in our current environment,” said Swadley. “Thanksnuggets are the perfect, convenient solution to bring all the best flavors of Thanksgiving to the table with minimal effort.”

This year, Perdue also launched two dipping sauces -- Spiced Apple Honey Mustard and CranBBQ Sauce -- to accompany the nuggets after consumers gave feedback on last year’s launch asking what to dip the seasonal nuggets in.

Swadley shared that the Thanksnuggets and Thanksdippings performed extremely well with the dark meat nuggets as well as both sauces being sold out, but the white meat nuggets can still be found in retailers across the US.

Prepared meal delivery service Freshly, which was acquired by Nestle last year, also wanted to continue delivering on its customers’ need for convenient holiday foods. For several years the company has offered individual seasonal offerings, but as demand grew the brand decided to debut multi-serve items, according to Jeff Sisarsky, Freshly’s vice president of category management.

“In the past, some customers would skip their individual meal delivery for Thanksgiving due to traveling,” he said. “This year we are seeing many of those customers change these orders from individual meals to multi-serve. Early customer ratings are very complimentary and we are continuing to see growth as we get closer to Thanksgiving.”

While no one seems to be immune to supply chain disruptions in 2021, both Perdue and Freshly have taken action to ensure that customers can obtain and enjoy their foods for this holiday season.

“Our meals are already freshly prepared and on a regular basis we manage large volumes of rotating inventory -- so this practice has helped us navigate these concerns,” said Sisarsky. “Also, by communicating the Thanksgiving ordering window in advance to our customers, we are able to forecast and be better prepared.”

“In preparation for the holidays, we’ve taken several proactive measures to help ensure consistent supply, and are adapting to keep up with orders and demand,” said Swadley. “We are proud that we rolled out this LTO to retail stores nationwide in September without any major roadblocks as a result of global supply chain issues.”

Due to the success of these Thanksgiving alternatives, both Freshly and Perdue plan to continue their seasonal offerings in the future. 

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