Walmart’s Year of the Tiny Turkey

FreshDirect and other grocers anticipate smaller holiday gatherings
Photograph courtesy of Walmart

If fourth-quarter 2020 was a movie, it would be “Honey, I Shrunk the Holidays.” Grocers from Walmart to The Fresh Market and FreshDirect are preparing for shoppers to gather in smaller numbers, and they are adjusting their holiday buying strategy accordingly.

“This year has brought rapid and constant change in every facet of our daily lives, and we know Thanksgiving celebrations will be no exception,” says Jacqui Lyons, divisional merchandise manager, seafood and seasonal meat for Walmart, on the company website. “The sprint to Thanksgiving is likely going to be spread over a greater number of days, and the largest turkey in the freezer is less likely to be the star.”

Lyons goes on to say that the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer made shifts early on to ensure its customers would find the items they want for the Thanksgiving meal, pointing to data from Butterball, which found that the number of consumers who plan to host extended family and friends for Thanksgiving has dropped from 30% during a typical year to 26% this year. Additionally, the number of people who plan to celebrate with immediate family only has risen from 21% in a typical year, to 31%.

“With more customers planning for smaller groups, we anticipate a higher preference for smaller turkeys,” Lyons continued. While Walmart says it will have plenty of whole turkeys this year, it has also increased its assortment of bone-in and boneless turkey breasts by 20%-30% in stores across the country.

To avoid the crowds that Walmart experienced during Easter this year, it is also planning on a longer holiday shopping season, which it will encourage by offering low prices on its range of turkeys beginning Nov. 2. Further breaking with tradition, Walmart has increased its ham inventory for Thanksgiving.

The Fresh Market has conducted its own survey on consumer behavior this holiday season. The survey of its guests found that more than half (53%) indicated they will do more cooking this holiday season than last year and host smaller gatherings. Seventy percent said they plan to host between two and eight people.

In response, the Greensboro, N.C.-based grocer has expanded its meal and party platter offerings to accommodate holiday gatherings of all sizes this year. It is offering a range of holiday meals designed to feed as few as three or as many as 10.

“The Fresh Market has become a go-to destination for restaurant-quality meals, particularly during this unprecedented time,” said Dan Portnoy, chief merchandising officer of The Fresh Market. “We are thrilled to be able to offer our guests a range of ready-to-heat holiday meals and party platters to make their celebrations extraordinary and fit gatherings of all socially distanced sizes.”

Online grocers are also anticipating fewer guests around the holiday table. A recent FreshDirect customer survey revealed that for those who typically host celebrations, attendance will be 55% smaller.

FreshDirect said its suppliers plan to harvest toms (male turkeys) earlier, to keep them smaller, and to lean more heavily on hens this year. In addition to working with producers to offer a greater quantity of smaller turkeys, FreshDirect is also investing resources in smaller cuts and oven-ready marinated options of fresh turkey breasts, tenderloins and bone-in breasts. It also expects whole chickens to have a seat at the table this Thanksgiving.

And while the online grocer based in the Northeast will again offer chef-prepared Thanksgiving meals available for advanced order beginning Nov. 5 (for delivery from Nov. 21 through Nov. 26), it will make them available in three sizes of Thanksgiving meal bundles to accommodate a variety of gathering sizes.


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