New twists to holiday 2012

Food-truck catering, price pressures, and distraught consumers in the storm-battered Northeast pose seasonal challenges for supermarkets.

November 14, 2012

This 2012 holiday season will be more challenging than usual for supermarkets. Sure, they’ll supply what households need for classic family feasts and convenient, easy-to-prepare meals in between.

But several trends will test their resiliency in this heavy buying period (which they once owned), says The Lempert Report:

First, the rising prices of turkey and ham could limit the numbers of conventional family dinners served across America—and open the door for new holiday meal solutions. Turkeys will cost 5% to 10% more this year than last, and stuffing will rise 3% to 5%, Dining Alliance told the Wall Street Journal. Therefore, some households will simply aim to save money, and they’ll achieve that at places like Walmart, Target, Costco and extreme-value chains.

Others, however, will take a more imaginative path to ‘new.’ Inspired by food-truck discoveries, they may ask their invited guests to indicate in advance if they want “souvlaki for Thanksgiving” or “beef bourgignon for Christmas,” for instance. What better way to build a reputation as an accommodating host than by offering choices from specialized mobile chefs?  

So, second, we predict food trucks will be catering this holiday season, using their considerable social-media skills to make it an easy buying process for consumers. Because their influence is greatest in a limited number of cities, share loss by supermarkets will be limited. Yet supermarkets everywhere could learn lessons from food trucks—to diversify their catering menus, make it simpler for consumers to order, and possibly partner or co-brand and co-market holiday catering to maximize big-ticket transactions. One idea to consider: use the supermarket as a central pick-up point for food-truck orders, so shoppers come to the store to round out their shopping.

After all, Thanksgiving is increasingly a shopping day as well as a family day. We saw this last year with Black Friday sales beginning just hours after dinnertime.  Retailers sense demand for shopping during the day:  Responsys says 80% of major retailers will send e-mail messages on Thanksgiving Day 2012, up from 45% in 2009, reports Ad Age.  

Third, although the Accenture Holiday Shopping Survey predicts increases in holiday spending, it will be a different story in large swaths of the densely populated Northeast region devastated by superstorm Sandy and the nor’easter that followed.  In this area, supermarkets will need huge measures of compassion, charity and value offers—as well as crisp execution—to satisfy people already pushed to their limits.

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