Better ways to promote Thanksgiving

November 15, 2011

The U.S. turkey supply is up, and appetites are ready. Are supermarkets promoting to their best advantage – or could they do more with themes of health, fun and preparation ease?

Because U.S. households pre-plan their Thanksgiving meals, this is the precise week when food ads spike, retailers message consumers and promote to earn their stores more destination trips.  Some operators like ShopRite continue to encourage continuity with turkey giveaways (and steep discounts for Kosher turkeys) to frequent shopper cardholders who’ve spent $300 in recent weeks at the store.

They can afford to do this again in 2011, since the turkey supply will be strong. The U.S. Census Bureau and the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service forecast the United States would raise 248 million turkeys in 2011 – up two percent from the 242 million raised in 2010, when the output weighed 7.11 billion pounds and was valued at $4.37 billion.

The latest USDA figures also show that a typical American consumed 13.3 pounds of turkey in 2009 (probably much of it at Thanksgiving time) and 5.3 pounds of sweet potatoes. This compares with 13.8 pounds of turkey and 5.2 pounds of sweet potatoes eaten in 2007. F3 expects turkey consumption in 2011 to be impacted by this summer’s recall of 36 million pounds of ground turkey contaminated by salmonella; it was the third-largest U.S. meat recall and the largest involving ground turkey.

Thanksgiving is such a highly promoted food event for America’s households, it plays into the hands of non-traditional channels such as drug and dollar stores, which continue to escalate their food presence year-round with hot-priced packaged-food brands. An ECRM Promotional Reflections study of Thanksgiving 2010 provides a foundation for what to expect in 2011.

During the 12 months leading up to Thanksgiving last year, Longs Drug and Dollar General devoted 50% of their circular space to food. This was followed by 99 Cents Only (48%), Meijer (37%), Duane Reade (36%), Family Dollar (35%), CVS (33%), Walgreens (32%), Bartell (30%) and Kinney Drugs (29%), the ECRM data showed.  By comparison, conventional supermarkets dedicate about 87% of their feature ads to foods.

In F3’s view, the ECRM analysis of food items promoted most heavily in November 2010 underscores how supermarkets missed plenty of opportunities to win over shoppers.  So many of the leading items – cranberries, baking ingredients, side dishes and ham, to name a few – would be bought for the holiday anyway. Also, many of them are low-ticket items that have less impact on the store’s seasonal performance.

It would be smarter, we believe, if supermarkets promoted higher-ticket items that make life easier (especially around the holidays when stress levels are high) and promote multi-generational bonding. Think frozen pies and automatic wine bottle openers for convenience. Or promote kid-sized utensils and cooking tools for when they bake cookies or easy side dishes with older family members.  

Eating healthier would be another successful ad theme, says F3. A promotional focus on grains and specialty breads, as well as winter vegetables such as squash, pumpkin, carrots, beets and lentils provide a healthful change of pace and help add new colors and textures to main plates and sides.