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Foodservice Outlets Play Role in Thanksgiving Meals

CHICAGO — Thanksgiving is no longer a one-size-fits-all occasion. Today’s Turkey Day traditions reflect a mix of influences, including economic, ethnic, generational, health, pop culture and social structure, according to new research findings from The NPD Group and research partner CultureWaves. 

While today's Thanksgiving meals are celebrated in a number of ways — ranging from with family, to a shopping or entertainment experience, to at work — one aspect of Thanksgiving tradition that has remained tried and true is that most Americans choose to celebrate the meal at home, whether it be theirs or someone else’s.

Approximately 48 percent of Americans eat their Thanksgiving meals at home, while 44 percent eat at someone else’s house. Only 3 percent will eat their meal at a full-service restaurant, NPD found.

More consumers, though, are making visits to restaurants on Thanksgiving, since more than one meal happens that day. The meal most likely to be eaten at a restaurant on Thanksgiving is breakfast (19 percent).

And that isn't the only way consumers are incorporating restaurants and other foodservice outlets into their Thanksgiving traditions. On Turkey Day, 29 percent of holiday celebrations include an item sourced ready-to-eat from a foodservice outlet, and 55 percent include items that were “completely homemade” from a restaurant or foodservice outlet.

“As much as things change, we know that many of the traditional Thanksgiving foods have remained the same,” stated David Portalatin, vice president, food industry analyst at NPD Group and author of the recently published Eating Patterns in America. “The majority of Thanksgiving feasts will include a turkey, although that turkey may be dressed in non-traditional spices and flavorings. And even with all of the changes going on in our society, we have managed to keep the spirit of the first Thanksgiving intact, and that is sharing a meal and spending time with family, friends or whomever one chooses.”   

According to NPD, two of the biggest influences on new Thanksgiving traditions are generational and cultural. Baby boomers are no longer interested in maintaining how things have been, and instead are focused now on making and maintaining connections. Generation X is taking bits and pieces of the traditions they grew up with and mashing them up with things that fit their current needs. Millennials, on the other hand, are more nostalgic for family tradition, but recognize that much of the hype is media-generated and not actually what they experienced personally.

Americans are also beginning to seek out and identify with a culture that works for them — one that may not necessarily stem from their ethnicity. Today’s consumers are more comfortable integrating various culture influences into their daily lives, including meals. Thanksgiving meals will integrate cultures into traditional Thanksgiving staples, like a Szechuan green bean casserole, or mashed potatoes made with Manchego cheese.

“The key point is that as American culture evolves, the core of each American holiday is becoming focused on the people over the celebration itself,” said Locke Hilderbrand, executive vice president and chief insights officer, CultureWaves. “Holidays are now an outlet in which to connect, regardless of what cultural traditions may or may not be present. This allows for new holiday events and occasions to be created, as more families and friends intertwine their traditions and customs to create new ones that celebrate personal tradition.” 

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