Instacart’s Fourth Annual Turkey Day Exposé: Budgeting & Planning This Year’s Meal
A lot goes into preparing for Thanksgiving, one of the most highly anticipated food-centric holidays of the year — the elaborate feast, holiday decor, festive traditions, and spending time with loved ones, which means traveling or hosting for many. Over the past two years, holiday plans were impacted by the pandemic and while we’re still adjusting back to normal, we now have some newer obstacles to face, including rising costs, when it comes to navigating this holiday season. According to a new Instacart survey of over 2,000 U.S. adults conducted online by The Harris Poll, 85% of Americans plan to host or attend a Thanksgiving dinner this year, and just over 2 in 3 Americans (67%) say that rising food costs are a concern for them this holiday. Let’s go a bit deeper. ⤵️
Here’s what Thanksgiving hosts and travelers are planning for November 24:
The Hosts → Thirty-eight percent of Americans plan to host Thanksgiving dinner, and more than 2 in 3 Thanksgiving dinner hosts (68%) will make the entire holiday dinner themselves. Of those hosting Thanksgiving this year, 84% will try to reduce the cost of food.
The Travelers → For those who are or were planning to travel this Thanksgiving, 69% say the high cost of travel will have an impact on their travel plans, with 29% noting they usually travel but will stay local or cancel plans because the cost is too high. Additionally, 39% will still travel but modify their original plans to be more budget-friendly, including driving instead of flying, carpooling, shortening the trip, and more.
Bottom line, it’s evident new financial challenges will shadow this holiday season, but people are still eager to partake in the festivities and enjoy the traditional meal. In this report, we examine grocery purchase trends via Instacart and consumer survey data to uncover insights that will help people plan for Thanksgiving dinner – and glean new insights about the food along the way. We also included savings tips from Instacart’s Trends Expert Laurentia Romaniuk throughout to help folks make the most out of their shopping experience.
Mapping Out the Big Meal
Everything starts with making a plan, so let’s take a look at the busiest shopping days in November.
There are two key takeaways when looking at shopping in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving:
- In November, the number of Instacart customers on the platform peaks the day before Thanksgiving, with most orders containing fewer items and last-minute or forgotten ingredients.
- Secondly, the number of items sold via Instacart in November peaks both Sundays in the two weeks before Thanksgiving, meaning people really do stock up for their feasts and place bigger orders on top of their normal weekly shops during those days.
If you’re hoping to shop around these busy days, here’s a pro tip: “Place your orders or make a trip to the store Tuesday through Thursday the week before Thanksgiving because the middle of the week always sees the lightest amount of foot traffic,” says Romaniuk. “Avoiding the busy weekends and Mondays will help ensure you’re able to get everything you need on your Thanksgiving shopping list. We also recommend that people get a head start and shop for their non-perishable and frozen ingredients in early November and load up on fresh ingredients as far out from the Thanksgiving holiday as feasible. Starting early also allows you to take advantage of more sales and deals.”
Don’t Forget to ‘Cart’ it
As mentioned, grocery orders placed on the infamous Wednesday before Thanksgiving often contain last-minute or forgotten ingredients, so we took a look at the top 10 items that have their biggest sales day of the year the day before Thanksgiving. Don’t forget to add these items when you do your shopping…
- Eat, drink and be dairy: Cheddar has its biggest day of the year — more than any other item — the day before Thanksgiving and we can only hope this is because people are cooking up homemade mac n’ cheese. Cheddar is followed by other dairy peers including cream cheese (dips anyone?) and whipped cream (for dessert, obviously). Butter spreads come in a bit later as well as heavy whipping cream because we all know these go in pretty much every Thanksgiving dish.
- Give me gluten: Buns and rolls of all sorts make major cart traction right before the holiday. Who doesn’t want their bread to be extra fresh?
- Convenience, please: Canned green beans, canned corn, and boxed stuffing come in hot for all the people who prefer shortcuts — can we blame them?
- Soda-lightful: Fruit soda has its biggest day of the year right before Thanksgiving — perfect for kids and the sober curious looking for a “fun drink.”
Side Dishes Across America
Thanksgiving, also known as “Turkey Day,” may imply that the bird is the true star of the dinner table, but we’d argue the real winner is the spread of delicious side dishes.
“Not only are side dishes the best part of the meal for many people, but turkey can also be expensive,” says Romaniuk. “Our survey also found that nearly 1 in 4 Americans (23%) anticipate a small Thanksgiving dinner (with 4 people or less) this year. In those cases and as a great way to cut back on costs, you can skip the full turkey and save money by simply serving turkey breasts, wings, or legs instead. Alternatively, you can serve another more affordable protein like a chicken or Cornish hen to enjoy with all those delicious sides.”
While folks in every state can appreciate all the best Thanksgiving sides from potatoes to fall vegetables and dinner rolls to cranberries, we noticed that each state has clear preferences when it comes to the actual side dish ingredients…
- Yes we cran: It’s safe to say the majority of people prefer fresh and homemade dishes over store-bought pantry items, right? Well, cranberries might be the only exception with all but 6 states preferring canned berry jelly over fresh cranberries. In fact, canned cranberries are the most popular Thanksgiving item sold via Instacart. Here’s just how crazy people are for this Thanksgiving delicacy:
- Spud-tastic: While many Thanksgiving spreads will include mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes or yams, each state has its starchy favorite. The West Coast and a bit of the East Coast favor russet, the king of mashed potatoes, while sweet potatoes dominate in the South, Midwest, and North East. Mississippi is solo with its love for yams.
- Eat your veggies: Whether a vegetable is hidden in a casserole or not is beside the point, as long as we get our greens in. When it comes to all of the top fall veggies making a table appearance, brussels sprouts dominate in the Midwest, green beans in the South and the Northeast, and asparagus along the West Coast. All of these are in season and sold at great price points.
- Oh my gourd: Some form of seasonal squash will always make its way to the Thanksgiving table, and the U.S. is fairly split on the top squashes sold with yellow squash reigning supreme on the West Coast and through the South, and butternut squash dominating in the Midwest and through the Northeast.
- Pass the rolls: We all need something to dip in the gravy and make little turkey sandwiches with, don’t we? The U.S. has made its love for Hawaiian rolls clear with 39 states choosing the sweet and fluffy bread as its favorite, followed by 11 states who opt for crescent rolls. And if you’re wondering, yes, Hawaii does fancy Hawaiian rolls.
We would argue no plentiful holiday dinner is complete without a glass (or bottle!) of vino. We took a look at the top 10 types of wine sold via Instacart with Cabernet Sauvignon as the most popular type of wine for Thanksgiving. However, our sales data for the #1 spot on the list doesn’t perfectly reflect the advice from wine experts on the best pairings for a turkey dinner, which are commonly known to be lighter reds and white wines. Thankfully, the dark and moody Cab is followed by other wine-expert-approved choices, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, Red Blends, Pinot Noir, Prosecco, Rosé, Sparkling Wine, and Champagne. Cheers!
Get the Table Ready
Our survey found that just over half of Americans (56%) agree that Thanksgiving decor is just as important as the food, perhaps because adding that festive flare and creating a cozy aesthetic with candles and other touches can complete the experience. Since Instacart has introduced a number of home goods and other non-grocery retailers to the platform, we’ve seen significant growth for home decor, kitchen essentials, and other important items — with candle holders, for example, growing 1,146% from November 2020 to November 2021.
Additionally, last year was an important holiday season as pandemic fears dwindled and many reunited with family for Thanksgiving. With that, it’s no surprise we saw a significant jump in decor deliveries with folks needing to refresh their centerpieces, ambiance lighting, and dining ware. Here are the top 10 home goods and kitchen essentials sold via Instacart for Thanksgiving in 2021:
Want to load up on holiday decor and home essentials without breaking the bank? Here’s a tip from Romaniuk: “We have over 14,000 dollar store retail locations across the country available on the platform, including Dollar Tree, The 99 Store, Five Below, and Family Dollar. These all offer great holiday cheer at a lower price point!”
Budgeting for the Big Day
As we look ahead to this holiday season, there’s a lot we can do to save. Here are some final suggestions to help cut back on costs from Romaniuk:
- Use those coupons: “Our survey found that 50% of those hosting or preparing food for Thanksgiving dinner will try to reduce the cost of food this year by using coupons or shopping promotions. Most people don’t know that Instacart has one of the world’s largest digital coupon platforms with thousands of deals and coupon offers available each day in the Savings tab in the Instacart App. As you shop for the holidays, take note of which items are on sale and plan around some of those ingredients.”
- Forage your kitchen and make a list: “If you’re someone who typically stocks up on pantry staples like pasta, soup stock, canned green beans, frozen veggies and fruits, and more over the past year and have yet to use them, now is the right time! You can cut down on your Thanksgiving grocery bill by taking note of what you already have, and then make a list and be calculative when it comes to what and how much you need so you don’t over-buy.”
- Calculate your budget: “Once you figure out what you actually need, creating a precise budget will help you stick within your means and avoid over-purchasing. To help, we developed a Budget Calculator, which gives you a recommended grocery budget based on your household.”
We hope you all have a happy and hearty Thanksgiving! 🦃🍷🕯️
This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Instacart from October 25-27, 2022, among 2,041 adults ages 18 and older. The sampling precision of Harris online polls is measured by using a Bayesian credible interval. For this study, the sample data is accurate to within +/- 2.8 percentage points using a 95% confidence level. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact [email protected].
Adjusted for Growth:
We adjust Instacart growth percentages by the overall growth of total orders via Instacart. Doing so removes the influence of our platform growth so we can focus on the change in consumer behavior.
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