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11/12/2018 – News / Retail / Thanksgiving / Festive / Christmas / Holiday / Food / Trends

America’s traditional Thanksgiving plate is evolving, finds new Nielsen data


Over the past few years, big changes have been taking place among Thanksgiving traditions, according to Nielsen. And with shifting dietary preferences reshaping the protein landscape, America’s Thanksgiving plate is evolving. Here, the research giant digests the most salient food trends to emerge following this year’s festive feast.


Beyond the bird


While turkey may have once been the talk of the town, there has been a noticeable move towards other proteins this year. In November, sales of beef far outpaced those of turkey, says Nielsen. And during Thanksgiving week alone, beef reached heights of nearly US$416 million, up seven per cent from a year ago. Comparatively, turkey sales represented US$281 million, down seven per cent from the same period last year.


Growth across raw meat remains inflationary, as volume consumption in November lagged nearly four per cent behind rates of last year. But the strength of sales beyond the traditional turkey still indicate that change is upon us. While turkey and chicken have seen both dollar and volume declines this month, Nielsen’s reference data by meat type shows some niche sectors of growth. For the consumer seeking a unique protein to grace their tables, Cornish hens, ducks and goat were among the top-selling fowl or exotic meats in November.


Sales of cooking fats up


Not everything has diverged from what might be deemed ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving cooking staples. For many, Thanksgiving kicks off the peak of the cooking and baking season, and when it comes to cooking fats, Americans aren’t as taken with substitutes.


In the holiday week, butter (+3 per cent) and lard (+14 per cent) were among the only cooking oils, spreads and other cooking fats to see dollar sales growth. Conversely, margarine, cooking spray and substitute spreads all saw dollar and volume declines. 


Looking deeper at traditional cooking fats, there may be opportunities within emerging butter subcategories. While traditional butter sales grew 2 per cent in Thanksgiving week, ghee – a variation of clarified butter that originated in India – along with other clarified butters outperformed (up nearly 63 per cent in dollar sales, compared to the same period last year). It should also be noted that the combined subcategory of clarified butter and ghee garnered $23 million within the 52 weeks ending 24th November 2018.


Pre-prepared side dishes take centre stage


Sales of prepared foods reached nearly US$918 million in America’s stores in Thanksgiving week – a figure that’s up four per cent from the same time last year. Among the items most sold were soups (US$98m, up 3 per cent), prepared complete meals (US$97m, up 6 per cent) and sides (US$81m, up 1 per cent). 


Growth has proved particularly strong where prepared foods were manufactured with health and wellness attributes in mind. According to Nielsen reference data, sales were higher for prepared foods that claim to be gluten free (+3 per cent), to contain limited salt or sodium (+3 per cent), to be organic (+6 per cent), or to have natural or limited preservatives (+9 per cent). 


Romaine lettuce – wilted sales 


While Thanksgiving week was big across several FMCG categories, it wasn’t quite as momentous for romaine lettuce. With the leafy green plagued by another E. Coli outbreak (the second one this year) and many stores forced to remove all products from shelves in precautionary measures, Nielsen reports what appears to be the latest dip in romaine sales. Thanksgiving week was the lowest of the year for sales, which reached just over half that of what was seen in weeks prior. Indeed, sales were down a whopping 38 per cent compared to the same period a year ago, demonstrating first-hand the cost that outbreaks like this can have.


The rise of ‘Friendsgiving’ 


And it’s not just what’s on the plate that’s changing when it comes to Thanksgiving. For many, gone are the days of having one big meal with your family on the holiday. Today, many Americans enjoy multiple meals. In fact, the average person now eats 1.7 meals with their families during Thanksgiving. Who eats the most? Millennials lead the way over the Thanksgiving holiday, eating 2.7 meals with family and 1.8 meals with friends in the increasingly popular ‘Friendsgiving’.


Friendsgiving, a newer tradition that involves celebrating the holiday with friends instead of family, is also growing in multicultural flair, Nielsen reports. In fact, 39 per cent of the people who celebrate Friendsgiving said they planned to add a side dish from another culture to their table this year. Comparatively, 32 per cent planned to add a main dish from another culture and 31 per cent said they would include a dessert from another culture.


Mealkits gaining traction


The final big food trend this holiday season is meal kits. Falling in-between takeout and home-cooking from scratch, meal kits deliver pre-measured ingredients and recipes to help consumers cook with ease. And they’re gaining traction over the holidays, observes Nielsen – it reports that 32 per cent of Americans say they prefer to make their holiday meals from a kit.


Nor are consumers only using kits for their main courses, with salad kits also experiencing a tremendous rise in sales in recent years (the sub-category accounted for US$3.7bn in sales in the year ending 2nd April 2016, representing 8 per cent year-on-year growth. Making meal kits available to time-strapped consumers will help alleviate the stress of complex recipes and running the aisles for ingredients.

With traditions old and new, Americans have more ways than ever to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. Of course, some of these preferences will likely transcend the holiday period. Retailers and manufacturers that can keep up with evolving trends and ensure that consumers can find everything from multicultural flavours to meal kits at their favourite stores will keep consumers coming back year-round.


For further insights, visit:

Latest issue – Vol 1/23
– Health & Nutrition focus
– Gulfood 2023 Special
– Next level legume – The rise of the chickpea
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