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All About the Turkey—Or Is It?
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All About the Turkey—Or Is It?

The weather is cooler and pumpkin-spiced everything is filling store shelves, which means most grocers have already shifted their focus to the Thanksgiving turkey. Turkey season requires a lot of planning at retail, with all hands on deck to make sure the holiday season goes off without a hitch.

According to Nielsen’s Advanced Fresh Perspective data, the week of Thanksgiving is one of the highest-selling weeks for all food and beverage categories combined in the U.S.—second only to the week of Christmas.

As for the star of the Thanksgiving meal, nearly 400 million pounds of turkey are sold in November, and a whopping 77% of whole turkeys sold throughout the year are sold during the month of November. But turkey season is not all gravy for retailers. With gains in sales also comes loss. Nielsen estimates that $192 million of gross profit is lost from turkey during November, as retailers slash turkey prices to drive traffic to stores.

In fact, for the majority of Americans, a bird isn’t even on their Thanksgiving shopping list. Only 17% of households actually purchase a turkey in November. While Thanksgiving is very important to turkey sales—turkey isn’t the only important element of Thanksgiving sales. This holiday meal, and the rest of the month, provides a variety of opportunities across the store beyond turkey.

Since 83% of households don’t purchase a turkey for Thanksgiving, most will be contributing to the fixings for their holiday meal. Thanksgiving is the sales week for staples of the season like cranberries and sweet potatoes. Not only is it the highest-selling week for both products, 35% of yearly cranberry sales occur during the holiday week. The week of Thanksgiving also accounts for roughly 29% of yearly bakery pumpkin pie sales.

And while many consumers stock up on ingredients for homemade fare, many are taking the non- or nearly-homemade route. Although convenience is becoming an increasingly high priority for many consumers, buying prepared or nearly-prepared foods to “outsource” holiday food preparation is not a new idea. Since 2010, the week of the Thanksgiving holiday has been the highest selling week of the year for both prepared deli sides (which includes items like potato sides and stuffing) and prepared deli entrees, which were driven by turkey entrée sales. Since 2010, the week of Thanksgiving has also consistently been among top-selling weeks for prepared deli platters. Thanksgiving is also a big week for deli dips and spreads, which saw a compound annual growth rate of 8.1% from 2010 to 2014, outpacing that of other prepared deli categories.

In the produce department, there are sales shifts to support the idea that, while consumers are still cooking, they’re also seeking short-cuts during the holiday week. The value-added vegetables category (which includes side dish, snacking, tray and meal-prep vegetables), jumped from the 12thhighest-selling produce category during the week of Thanksgiving in 2010 to the seventh highest selling produce category the week of Thanksgiving in 2014. Packaged salad has also climbed the ladder over the course of the past four years, with a compound annual dollar growth rate of 5.1%.

November Shopping Beyond the Bird

But savvy retailers know that November can’t be all about the Thanksgiving meal—basic, everyday shopping items still matter. When looking across all food and beverage categories in the store over a year-long period versus the two weeks of Thanksgiving shopping, the top 10 highest-selling categories (in both dollar and volume sales) are mostly the same. 

Turkey does enter the top 10 categories in November, but fresh beef, carbonated beverages and salty snacks sales rank higher. Consumers continue to eat all of their regular meals throughout the month of November, so staple categories should remain top of mind. For example, according to Nielsen’s Total Store Connectivity Study, ground beef and carbonated beverages are highly connected categories with strong connections across the store. These connections can be used to create solution-based promotions or merchandising during November—because when it comes to the holiday season, retailers need to focus on satisfying consumer’s holiday meal needs and the needs for the other 20-plus dinners during the month.