Will This Thanksgiving Dinner Be the Healthiest Yet?

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Thanksgiving Dinner

By Ronak Sheth, Chief Customer Officer for Label Insight

Every year, Americans collectively loosen their belts in anticipation of one of the most beloved and glutinous meals of the year, Thanksgiving dinner. But as consumer awareness about the ingredients being used in the food products they purchase increases, so too does their demand for more transparency from retailers and manufacturers alike. In fact, this holiday season consumers are expected to spend more on “better-for-you” ingredients leading up to Thanksgiving than they do during an average week.

Why? Because Americans are changing the way they shop for food products. Today’s consumers are more concerned than ever before about the food they consume. According to Label Insight’s 2017 Shopper Trends Study, nearly half of U.S. shoppers (49%) adhere to a particular diet or nutrition plan, and 75% avoid specific ingredients when purchasing food products. While each consumer may vary their definition of healthy, or the diets they follow, there is an overwhelming consensus that ingredient information is still confusing or not detailed enough.

Data from Nielsen Product Insider, powered by Label Insight, shows more inclusion for diets, lifestyles and preferences than ever before. Products meeting vegetarian, vegan and Paleo diet requirements sell faster for three weeks leading up to Thanksgiving than during the weekly average. Whereas Thanksgiving dinner was once used as a “cheat” day for many, today’s consumers are bringing their standard eating habits into this holiday.

The rise of superfoods and clean/organic products this holiday season

Superfoods have quickly become a popular purchase in grocery stores across the country. And this Thanksgiving, superfoods are expected to have a prominent place at the table as well. Sweet potatoes and cinnamon are two staple ingredients used widely in Thanksgiving recipes. They’re considered superfoods because of their health benefits; both are rich in vitamins A and C as well as antioxidants.  According to data from Nielsen, more than 10% of sweet potato sales were generated during the three weeks leading up to Thanksgiving alone. Organic sweet potato sales increased 12%, but conventional sweet potato dollars declined 2% during this period.

Last year, Nielsen found that consumers spent more than twice as much on desserts with cinnamon in the weeks surrounding Thanksgiving than during an average week. Across the grocery store, shoppers are looking for food including cinnamon as an ingredient. Cheese, processed meats and nuts/butters/jellies including cinnamon all sold more during the three weeks leading up to Thanksgiving compared to the rest of the year.

The demand for greater transparency touches every aspect of the grocery industry, from CPG to the fresh perimeter of the store. In particular, consumers have more interest in understanding where their meat is coming from and how it was raised before hitting freezer cases. In fact, this summer business magnates Bill Gates and Richard Branson invested in Memphis Meats, a “clean meat” company that has already produced beef, chicken and duck directly from animal cells.

More than ever before, consumers are purchasing “organic” and “natural” turkey, hams and breakfast sausage instead of conventional meats for their Thanksgiving dinner. According to Nielsen FreshFacts, organic turkey accounted for $26 million in sales during the three weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, while antibiotic-free rang up $18 million in sales – a 140% jump from 2015. Vegetarian fed free-range turkey sales increased 41% to $600,000 in sales. The trend line for specialty meats is rising each year as consumers extend their buying preferences into the holiday season.

Meeting consumer demand for cleaner, “better-for-you” products

How can the industry continue to meet consumer demand especially during the hectic and crowded holiday shopping season? Manufacturers and retailers must communicate clearly with consumers. When it comes to food products, consumer needs are varied and complex. Addressing shoppers’ diet, health and allergen interests and concerns with easy-to-understand labels is key. At the end of the day, it all comes back to product transparency – information that can easily be found by consumers, ether in store or via mobile devices. Retailers must remain aware of buyer preferences and keep clean label trends in mind.

Companies that understand these trends have the opportunity to capitalize on them and continue meeting consumers’ healthful preferences, which in the long run might be something to be thankful for.

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