Thanksgiving Grocery Shopping Shifts Online 

More consumers are buying turkey and trimmings digitally and even using holiday meal kits

Author: Krista Garcia

November 13, 2018

Online shopping has become a sport during Thanksgiving week and beyond, and it's also starting to play a role in the holiday meal itself. In many ways, the convenience of buying groceries online seems well-suited for larger-than-usual gatherings, even if it is used by only a small number of consumers.  

According to JDA Software, the vast majority of respondents (83.1%) said they plan to shop in-store only for their Thanksgiving grocery needs. However, there is a small, growing segment that is buying groceries online (7.3%) and using a combination of online and offline channels (8.7%). 

Convenience was given as the No. 1 reason (67.1%) for not shopping in-store this year, rather than it being more cost-efficient to use a meal kit or have groceries delivered (20.8%).

Nonperishable goods were the category most internet users were planning on buying online (60%), which is in line with grocery shopping generally, but fresh items like produce (45%), a turkey (40%) and dessert (39%) were also planned purchases. 

Meal kits are used by a fairly small number of consumers—just 4% in the past month, according to Bizrate Insights—so their low usage for holiday cooking (1.0%) isn't surprising. But that hasn't stopped brands from marketing Thanksgiving meal prep. HelloFresh launched a Thanksgiving Box this year, with ingredients to make everything including the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and dessert for up to 10 people, starting at $14.90 per serving. 

According to analysis by search intelligence company Captify, between October 1, 2017, and November 8, 2018, searches for meal kits increased by 2,000%. By specific brands, searches for Blue Apron grew the most (188x), followed by HelloFresh (180x), Green Chef (62x) and Amazon at a distant fourth place (10x).

For nearly half (46%) in the JDA survey, this was the first time using a grocery delivery service for the holidays. The study didn't delve into whether or not these online holiday grocery shoppers typically buy food and beverages digitally, but it would stand to reason that this fairly high proportion of new online holiday grocery shoppers is due to the growing popularity of buying food and beverages online in general. 

Younger consumers are likely to change the face of holiday grocery shopping as well. According to Adobe, half of internet users ages 20 to 36 bought groceries online in the past year vs. 18% of those ages 53 to 71. 

Millennials are also embracing their role as hosts, which might signal big changes ahead. In an Accenture survey, roughly 45% of younger millennials (ages 21 to 27) and 48% of older millennials (28 to 37) said they plan on hosting more holiday gatherings this year than in 2017. Additionally, 62% young millennials plan on hosting a Thanksgiving meal this year, while 41% of baby boomers plan to host.