What to Expect When You’re Expecting… Thanksgiving Dinner: Changes in 2020 Thanksgiving Dinner Plans

changes in 2020 thanksgiving dinner plans

What to Expect When You’re Expecting… Thanksgiving Dinner: Changes in 2020 Thanksgiving Dinner Plans

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changes in 2020 thanksgiving dinner plansIntroduction

With surging cases of COVID-19, families across the country are discussing their upcoming Thanksgiving dinner plans. As a backdrop to these family decisions, the CDC recently published guidelines outlining the risks associated with travel, prolonged indoor celebrations and large gatherings. At the same time, quarantine fatigue is real, and people are eager to see their loved ones and escape the daily routine at home that has become their new normal.
To better understand the mindset of the American shopper, Harmelin Media conducted our own primary research. While the research was conducted with our grocery clients in mind, there are implications for a broad range of retail marketers and brands. SPOILER ALERT: We don’t all think alike.


Understanding the New Priorities of the 2020 Thanksgiving Shopper

To get a better understanding of what people are thinking and how marketers should respond, we fielded a flash survey over four days leading up to the holiday (11/12/2020 – 11/15/2020). KEY QUESTION: What will be the BIGGEST change to people’s 2020 Thanksgiving dinner plans?

INSIGHT #1: “Pandemic? What pandemic?” | 32% of people do NOT expect any major changes to their holiday plans

While this number is a bit larger than expected, it is still not great news for grocery stores and other retailers. Because the fact is, 68% of people ARE expecting a major disruption to Thanksgiving plans and marketers needs to plan accordingly by addressing a diverse set of shopping and emotional needs that this holiday is bringing.

INSIGHT #2: “Please pass the sushi.” | 32% of people are planning for a much smaller gathering

Okay, so maybe sushi will not replace the traditional Thanksgiving turkey. However, the implications of small gatherings on food shopping are enormous. There is reported greater demand for smaller turkeys and an anticipated overall reduction in cart-size at grocery stores. However, with a shorter shopping list, we expect some shoppers to be favoring more quality over quantity this year to make these smaller events more special and memorable. It’s a good opportunity to introduce some high-end brands and non-traditional foods to the table.

INSIGHT #3: “Thanks for what?” | 23% plan to skip the traditional holiday dinner altogether

This statistic just makes us sad, but it represents the stark reality of the profound impact that the pandemic has had on a very large segment of the population. Whether due to economic reasons, personal reasons or just because some people don’t care this year, a quarter of the population is forgoing the traditional dinner. This will leave a HUGE emotional void that needs to be filled by something. Marketers would be wise to remember the people who won’t, or can’t, be your customer this year. Whether through direct philanthropic efforts or carefully crafted advertising, it’s important to not overlook this group that needs a boost.

INSIGHT #4: “Is that pick-up or delivery?” | 13% are changing their shopping habits by doing more online grocery shopping or ordering more meals

Truthfully, we expected these numbers to be greater. That said, many households have been turned upside-down in 2020. Juggling new routines in school, work and family has placed a premium on convenience. Having someone else do the heavy lifting, prep-work and cooking can be its own reward this holiday. However, to secure these customers, marketers need to start messaging to this group of people earlier. Digital channels and strategic timing of messages will be key to covert these time-starved shoppers into valuable pre-orders.

INSIGHT #5: Where you live impacts your priorities.

Retailers with larger regional footprints need to account for geographic differences in their marketing strategies and tactics. These differences are likely due to a combination of both the local impacts of the pandemic and geo-social differences that cluster by region. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that you can not use a one-size-fits-all strategy.


where you live depends on your 2020 thanksgiving plans


INSIGHT #6: Priorities change with age. 

Unsurprisingly, Thanksgiving plans for the younger segments (ages 25–54) are much more likely to be unaffected by the pandemic. However, as you get older, that response fluctuates dramatically. This is likely due to the increased risks of COVID associated with age. People ages 55–64 are more likely to change their plans and tend to respond with smaller gatherings as their #1 priority. People ages 65+ are the most likely to skip the traditional dinner altogether.


2020 thanksgiving plans depend on age



In addition to regional changes and age differences, marketers needs to overlay audience-based targeting with personalized messaging to address the wide variety of motivations and priorities across these complex shopping segments. Admittedly, this makes marketing more difficult. However, those who are nimble in addressing the changing business landscape and who are more responsive to shopper fragmentation will emerge as winners. More importantly, they will be able to play a role in providing some much-needed holiday cheer, on a much more personal level.


Marketing & Media Recommendations
  • Overlay regional and age differences with audience-based targeting
  • Personalize messaging to address segments and priorities
  • Be agile and flexible
  • Seize the opportunity to surprise and delight your customers


Harmelin Media’s Retail Practice

We are retail specialists, driving customers into both brick & mortar locations and e-commerce platforms.

To thrive, retailers need to adapt to constantly changing consumer demands. Consumers expect ease, variety, and positive shopping experiences. This means that to succeed, retailers must be innovative in their approach and develop new solutions for customer acquisition and retention. Years of collective experience help Harmelin Media take advantage of current trends and identify proper targets to ensure precise message delivery.

Through rigorous research, strategic planning, and a results-oriented approach, we provide you with retail advertising solutions to make your voice heard through improved brand/consumer communication. By integrating strategy, planning, and negotiation, we help you grow your business and maximize ROI. Thanks to our vast network of partners and intimate industry knowledge, we help you anticipate your consumers’ future interests, stay ahead of the top media trends and navigate the constantly shifting media landscape.


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