Relationship with Food

How 'Clean' Eating is Influencing Americans' Thanksgiving Meals

Hershey POV: For the Relationship With Food pillar, this Thanksgiving-oriented article examines survey data about consumers' food choices during the run-up to the holiday. Of particular interest is the heightened popularity of cinnamon, as well as the increase in sales of candy, gum and mints in preparation for Thanksgiving.

As we’ve seen across the grocery retail landscape in the last several years, consumer appetites for transparency in the foods they consume have continued to rise, and that trend is heightened during the holiday season. Notably, consumers spend more on better-for-you ingredients leading up to Thanksgiving than they do during an average week in a year. Whether consumers are stocking up on superfoods, shopping for specialty diet attributes or selecting meats with animal-welfare claims, these trends show a promising period for retailers.

For many households, Thanksgiving marks a time to spend with family and friends indulging in hearty meals and decadent desserts. But the way many Americans prepare for this annual holiday feast has started to shift in recent years, with 32% of Americans using holiday meal kits, preparing dishes from another culture, or spending the Thanksgiving holiday with friends for "Friendsgiving."

Thanksgiving Superfoods Across the Entire Store

Sweet potatoes and cinnamon are two staple ingredients on Americans’ Thanksgiving dinner plates, whether in savory sides or sweet desserts. They’re also considered superfoods because of their health benefits. Both sweet potatoes and cinnamon are rich in vitamins A and C as well as antioxidants.

Sweet potatoes sold in the produce section of stores have brought in $420 million in sales in the 52 weeks that ended Sept. 30, 2017, up 0.6% from the prior year. A total of $48.8 million came during the three weeks leading up to Thanksgiving alone. And while conventional sweet potato dollar sales declined 2% during this period, organic sweet potato sales increased 12%.

But opportunities for growth for this healthful vegetable reach much farther than the perimeter of the store. Products containing sweet potato as an ingredient sold an average of 30% more dollars in the three weeks leading up to Thanksgiving 2016 compared with the average week. In the dessert aisle, products containing sweet potato as an ingredient saw more than five times as many dollars spent during the same period, with sales up 88% compared to the same period in 2015.

Cinnamon, another nutrient-rich spice, is an ideal complement to many sweet potato dishes. It’s also one that sees higher sales around the holidays, with consumers spending an average of 13% more on cinnamon during the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving last year than during an average week. In addition, consumers spent more than twice as much on desserts with cinnamon in the weeks surrounding Thanksgiving than during an average week. Other categories with cinnamon as an ingredient that have seen higher dollar sales during the Thanksgiving period include cheese (82%), packaged teas (25%), candy/gum/mints (25%), processed meats (21%) and nut butters/jams/jellies (15%).

Specialty Diets: Vegetarian, Vegan & Paleo

According to a recent Nielsen survey, 39% of Americans are skipping meat protein and actively trying to include more plant-based foods in their diet, whether for health reasons or personal preferences, like improving overall health and nutrition, to proactively manage weight, and to eat clean.

Data from Nielsen Product Insider, powered by Label Insight, shows that there is something on the table for everyone during Thanksgiving. For vegetarian, vegan and paleo consumers alike, plenty of products meeting these diet requirements sell faster during the three weeks leading up to Thanksgiving than during the weekly average. Specialty diets don’t restrict consumers from creating delectable dishes and desserts to celebrate the holiday.

The Rise of Clean Meat During Thanksgiving

The call for food transparency continues to build, and that applies in the fresh perimeter of the store where consumers purchase meat. The use of terms like organic and natural are growing in importance among consumers. As Americans fill their shopping carts with turkey, ham, and non-traditional Thanksgiving meats like chicken and bacon, meat producers should continue to think of how "clean" varieties are resonating with consumers, and that Thanksgiving is an opportune time to push more-healthful offerings.

While shoppers start to build out their Thanksgiving menus, food producers and retailers should keep clean label trends front and center as consumers search for healthful options to satisfy their appetites during this traditionally indulgent season.


Insights from this article were derived from:

  • Nielsen Product Insider, powered by Label Insight, weeks ended Nov. 26, 2016; Nov. 19, 2016; and Nov. 12, 2016
  • Nielsen FreshFacts, Total U.S., weeks ended Nov. 26, 2016; Nov. 19, 2016; and Nov. 12, 2016
  • Nielsen FreshFacts, Total U.S., 52 weeks ended Sept. 30, 2017

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