Thanksgiving Food Forecast: Supply Chain Setbacks, Smaller Gatherings and Embracing Tradition

This year’s Thanksgiving holiday was supposed to be a return to normal, writes food and beverage analyst Emily Moquin, but supply chain issues, delta concerns and enduring anxiety are reshaping the holiday

Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Tadiana Martinez

Thanksgiving 2021 will look more like last year’s than it will pre-pandemic celebrations, in terms of the size and use of more traditional recipes, but supply chain problems threaten to complicate the meal.

Thanksgiving’s big meal will be a small affair again this year: The COVID-19 pandemic is still keeping millions of Americans at home who typically travel for the holiday, and nearly two-thirds of those celebrating say they will share the meal with just their immediate family. 

Smaller gatherings still mean ample opportunities for food and beverage marketers, albeit with some small adjustments to their messaging. All in all, 77 percent of those who plan to celebrate Thanksgiving will cook or help cook the big meal, which translates to a lot of decision-makers regarding what food and beverages make it onto the Thanksgiving table. 

Most Thanksgiving cooks plan to shop in the week leading up to Thanksgiving

Despite headlines warning of supply chain issues, the public is showing few signs of concern when it comes to procuring their Thanksgiving dinner ingredients. A majority of Americans planning to cook at least part of the big meal plan to shop for most groceries in the week leading up to Thanksgiving, and 67 percent plan to get their turkey no more than a week ahead of the holiday.

Most Cooks Plan to Wait Until the Week Before Thanksgiving to Get Their Groceries

Respondents who plan to cook for Thanksgiving were asked when they expect to purchase the following items:

Poll conducted Oct. 8-10, 2021, among at least 474 U.S. adults who said they would cook the Thanksgiving meal, with margins of error of up to +-5%.

While plans for smaller gatherings may mean less cause for concern about procuring enough or the right type of ingredients, consumers should expect smaller turkeys to run out as the holiday approaches — and to pay more for their ingredients. Grocery stores and food manufacturers would be wise to start directing shoppers to ingredient alternatives as supply chain issues worsen. 

As nationwide anxiety persists, traditional recipes take center plate

With roughly half (52 percent) of the country reporting that they feel anxious as of Oct. 9, now is not the time to mix things up, especially at the Thanksgiving table. Consumers will seek comfort in customary dishes and recipes for Thanksgiving, a holiday already deeply steeped in tradition. 

Thanksgiving Food Leans Traditional, With Young Adults Most Likely to Be Open to Mix of Old and New Recipes

Preference for recipe type among those who plan to celebrate the holiday, by generation

Poll conducted Oct. 8-10, 2021, among 1,386 U.S. adults who said they were planning to use recipes for Thanksgiving, with a margin of error of +-3%.

Thanksgiving-related recipes, products and communications efforts should lean even more into family and tradition than usual. Food and beverage brands seeking to break through with new recipes or products should identify a tie-in with traditional ingredients, dishes, flavors or techniques — layering the new with the familiar is the best way to win consumers’ consideration. Brands can target recipes, products and messages featuring new Thanksgiving ideas to younger consumers, who are more open to a mix of recipe types.

Thanksgiving cooks turn to tried-and-true recipe sources

Traditional recipes come from traditional sources, however, meaning that brands will be up against even fiercer competition to win cooks’ attention. Among Thanksgiving cooks, friends and family tops the list of recipe sources, followed by cookbooks and internet searches. In a declaration of their confidence in the kitchen, about 3 in 10 cooks don’t plan to use recipes at all.

Friends and Family Are Main Source for Thanksgiving Recipes, but 3 in 10 Cooks Will Not Use Recipes at All

Sources for recipes among those planning to cook a Thanksgiving meal

Poll conducted Oct. 8-10, 2021, among 466 U.S. adults who said they would cook the Thanksgiving meal, with a margin of error of +-4%.
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