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Grocery Trips During Thanksgiving Week

December 13, 2021
by
Nick Huntington-Klein

Does the lead-up to Thanksgiving mean more trips to the grocery store? You can imagine it going a few different ways. Obviously, people need to buy food for the Thanksgiving meal. But they need to buy food in normal weeks, too. If you buy all your Thanksgiving food on your normal shopping trip, then you aren’t really visiting the grocery store any more than normal. And if you try avoiding the grocery store to avoid the crowd, you might visit less.

2021 is also an odd year to ask whether we’ll see a Thanksgiving spike in grocery store visits. With grocery delivery services far more popular than they used to be, you can get the things you need without going to the store. If you expect a crowded store just before Thanksgiving, that may be another reason to order and skip the trip. Also, COVID-19 still plays a large role in people’s decisions. There are likely to be fewer canceled family gatherings this year than in 2020, but there also may be plenty of families still avoiding all big gatherings. They might not be making a trip at all.

So we can theorize in a lot of different directions, but let’s look at the data. The below graphs look at SafeGraph recorded visits to grocery stores on a weekly basis from late August to the week of Thanksgiving. Importantly, these are only visits to grocery stores, not other stores that happen to sell groceries. We’d like to have included Walmart, the biggest grocer in the US, but we don’t want to mix up grocery shopping with all the other stuff people do at Walmart (especially when the week of Thanksgiving includes a lot of Black Friday sales).

Graph showing weekly changes in grocery store visits
SafeGraph: Weekly Changes in Grocery Store Visits

When we look at aggregated national visits to grocery stores, Thanksgiving week (in blue, from Monday to Sunday) does stick out as being above average. But it’s not wildly out of line with normal activity in 2021. Several weeks at the beginning of September beat it, as does the second week in November.

Still, above-average is above-average. Weekly recorded visits to grocery stores in the SafeGraph data (which is only a sample of all the actual grocery visits) increased from about 6.5 million in a typical Fall week to about 6.9 million in Thanksgiving week.

Graph showing grocery store visits
SafeGraph: Grocery Store Visits

So that’s the grocery industry in the aggregate. How about specific grocery chains? To answer this, we take a look at four of the biggest chains in the US: Kroger, ALDI, Publix, and H-E-B.

We see quite a lot of differences across the brands. ALDI is particularly interesting with a Thanksgiving week that is actually below average. This isn’t the case for Kroger, H-E-B, and Publix, though. Kroger and H-E-B, in particular, have Thanksgiving week as one of their busiest in the Fall. Publix shows less of a jump with Thanksgiving near a typical week of visits.

Graph showing weekly changes in grocery store visits by top 4 brands
SafeGraph: Weekly Changes in Grocery Store Visits by Top 4 Brands

The differences are starker in the below graphs which compare Thanksgiving week to all the earlier weeks averaged out. Kroger in particular has a big Thanksgiving bump showing 12% higher than a typical week. H-E-B shows a 10% bump and Publix a 5% bump.

Graph showing grocery store visits
SafeGraph: Grocery Store Visits

So Thanksgiving is certainly a busier week than normal for grocery stores, at least in aggregate, and for many of the big brands. But the jump may not be as big as we would expect. There are a few potential reasons for this, from lingering COVID concerns to people shopping for Thanksgiving dinner in a single trip as opposed to multiple trips overall. In any case, we hope you enjoyed your meal.

Learn more about holiday foot traffic trends in our Black Friday blog. If you're interested in testing the data yourself, we'd like to gift you 25% off. Just use the code HOLIDAYS2021 at checkout. Offer valid through December 31st, 2021.

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