Report Provides Thanksgiving Shopping Behavior ‘Clarity’

A new study from Fetch Rewards and Cadent Consulting Group provides insights into shopper behavior as Americans prepared for the Thanksgiving holiday amid surging COVID-19 cases.

Understanding how shoppers purchased key categories across this period in real time provides insight for industry leaders to forecast their business and ensure that the right products were in stock.

The “Insta Clarity Study,” released in two installments, uses consumer data from Fetch Rewards’ panel of more than 5.5 million monthly active users, who upload receipts of their purchases – up to 3 million receipts per day.

The study looked at key Thanksgiving holiday categories – gravy, dinner rolls, stuffing mix, whipped toppings, cranberry sauce and frozen pies – and evaluated shopper behavior in 2020 compared to 2019. Across nearly all categories, shoppers spent less per trip during the “stock-up week” that precedes the holiday, indicating that many had planned to scale back their Thanksgiving gatherings or were purchasing only preferred items for personal or immediate family consumption. Dinner rolls saw the biggest shift, with shoppers spending 10% less this year.

But while overall spending per trip on these holiday categories decreased, shoppers were making more trips to the store this year to purchase holiday staples as they prepared for Thanksgiving dinner at home. Whipped topping was the leader in this category, with purchase frequency increasing by 36%.

The study evaluated shopper behavior across a major Thanksgiving food stock-up week. Specifically, it included the 10 days ending Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, compared to week ending Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019.

The study analyzed nearly 90,000 transactions in real time from a panel of over 270,000 users to make assessments. Among the key findings were:

Discretionary Sides Drive Overall Consumption Decline. Cranberry sauce and stuffing mix saw a significant decline in trips this year by 10% and 3% vs. YAG, respectively. Dollars per trip also declined. Traditionally, hosting and catering to a wider set of guests requires a broader set of side dishes. This year these side dishes, perhaps less universally preferred, failed to make the cut for many smaller gatherings.

Dinner rolls and whipped topping, in contrast, saw trips increase this year by 9% and 16% respectively, offsetting a decline in dollars per trip from smaller gatherings. Dinner rolls come in a variety of forms from traditional French rolls to whole grain to gluten free and are a must have side. Whipped toppings can be used as either a dessert ingredient or topping, which makes them relevant to a broad consumer base.

The decline in cranberry sauce and stuffing, two key staple categories, resulted in an overall consumption decline for Thanksgiving.

Last Minute Purchases Down vs. YAG. The 10 days leading up to Thanksgiving are a key shopping period for a focused set of categories traditionally associated with the Thanksgiving meal. As this year is atypical in many ways, the last three days of this focused shopping period turned out different than in prior years. For the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday leading up to Thanksgiving, trips across key staple categories fell by double-digits vs. YAG.

For example, 40% of stuffing mix trips, across the 10-day period, occurred during these final three shopping days in 2019 as shoppers made late purchases for their meal. In 2020, only 34% of stuffing mix trips occurred during those same 3 days as shoppers planned earlier and purchased well ahead of time.

For more on the study, view the final report.