This December, Americans Are Planning for Another Round of Smaller Holiday Gatherings

With U.S. coronavirus cases and deaths on the rise, smaller celebrations will again define the winter holiday season, writes food and beverage analyst Emily Moquin, even with omicron’s minimal impact on consumer comfort levels

Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Tadiana Martinez

Americans are still planning smaller winter gatherings compared with pre-pandemic years, and millennials are driving online grocery demand — a trend to watch as more members of this generation take on hosting responsibilities for their holiday gatherings.

Winter holiday meals and celebrations aren’t being canceled like so many were in 2020, but rising COVID-19 cases and deaths are once again causing people to rethink their holiday plans. Food and beverage brands and retailers can anticipate smaller gatherings and more online grocery orders, particularly among millennial hosts.

Another year of smaller gatherings

About one-quarter of U.S. adults say their families are planning to cancel their usual holiday get-togethers this year, down from nearly half who said the same in a November 2020 poll.

For those who don’t plan to fully cancel their celebrations, a majority say their family and friends will be having smaller get-togethers than usual this year. Nearly 7 in 10 plan to eat their Christmas meals with just their immediate family.

The share of respondents who agree with the following statements:

Surveys conducted weekly among roughly 2,200 U.S. adults, with margins of error of +/-2%.

Like last year, Americans are adjusting their plans in response to new developments in the pandemic. While the share of respondents who say they are planning smaller gatherings or canceling plans altogether has remained fairly stable since Morning Consult began tracking this data in September, the announcement that the Food and Drug Administration had authorized vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 caused a dip in projections for canceled or truncated holiday plans. But since then, rising cases have caused people to change their minds and their plans once again.

Smaller gatherings may be a boon to food and beverage brands and grocery stores, as this would mean more hosts making more decisions about what to serve. It would also provide ample opportunities for brands to tap into creative messaging to help customers finish their leftovers.

Greater reliance on online grocery orders

As hosts prepare to welcome these smaller groups of loved ones, many are embracing the convenience of online grocery shopping. While a majority of holiday grocery shopping will still occur in stores, roughly 3 in 10 hosts plan to go online to order food for their holiday meals, either for pickup or delivery.

How hosts of holiday get-togethers plan to get groceries for shared meals

Survey conducted Dec. 2-5 among 780 U.S. adults who are planning to host winter holiday meals, with a margin of error of +/-6%. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Millennial hosts are most likely to order online, with 44 percent planning to procure their holiday groceries this way. About the same proportion of millennial and Gen X hosts plan to order online for pickup, but millennials are significantly more likely than any other generation to get their holiday groceries delivered. This is a trend worth watching as holiday hosting responsibilities shift from boomers and Gen Xers to millennials in the coming years.

Pandemic safety also factors into procurement considerations this year, especially for parents. In retail overall, millennial parents are 10 percentage points more likely than nonparents to say that pandemic safety concerns are driving preferences for online shopping.

Morning Consult