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Fresh Food

Why Turkeys Got Harder to Catch

New data from IRI finds whole bird turkeys tanked last year, despite heavy promotion
Photograph: Shutterstock

A new report from IRI and the Food Marketing Institute finds that dollar sales of whole-bird turkeys were down $73 million, while volume was down $33 million, for the 52 weeks ending Sept. 8. As grocers plan for Thanksgiving, it is critical to look at how turkeys can play a new basket-building role, urges the report, Balancing the Cross-Aisle Pendulum.

Traditional commodity categories such as whole-bird turkey, which was among the bottom eight fresh perimeter categories ranked for that time period, have struggled to achieve growth. But despite declines in turkey sales nationally, sales in some outlets increased, notes the report. Turkey sales at discount grocers were up 34%. Sales were also up for grocers such as Whole Foods, Aldi and Trader Joe’s, which experienced lifts of 18%, 10% and 8%, respectively.

“Whole-bird sales were down last year despite retailers heavily discounting the category,” said Jonna Parker, principal of the Chicago-based IRI Fresh Center of Excellence.

Families buying whole-bird turkey declined by 10%. “Turkey is still on the plate, but it’s not necessarily the main event as it once was,” she added.

According to the report, 35% of U.S. households buy turkey in November and spend $90 in the store, with basket size increasing in grocery, supercenter and club channels. Grocers looking to grab a bigger share of the holiday spend on turkey and the trimmings need to evolve, said Parker.

Transaction data reveals that while turkey purchases spike one week prior to Thanksgiving, shoppers are still purchasing turkeys after the official holiday, suggesting that today’s consumer is flexible about when they gather around the table with family and friends. “Retailers who think it’s just Thursday with a big bird are missing out,” said Parker.

“Most retailers last year were promoting turkeys two weeks prior to Thanksgiving, while the majority of turkey sales took place one week prior,” she said. Also contributing to the overall erosion in holiday meal sales, is the fact that many grocers offer similar promotions and fail to tie turkey sales to sales of complementary items from produce to bakery to party supplies throughout the store.

“Retailers have the opportunity to incentivize people to also make purchases in the next department over, and even the entire store. What we see is consumers going to the store for a great price on a turkey, and then buying everything else for the meal somewhere else,” said Parker.

“How can grocery keep more turkey baskets?” asks the Balancing the Cross-Aisle Pendulum report. Instead of just giving a discount/low price on the turkey, get them to come back again. For example, data shows that turkey buyers also buy other meats, so give them a $5 coupon at meat department the next time they shop the store.

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