According to recently released research from IRI, only 29% of consumers will host or attend a Thanksgiving feast this year with extended friends or family who do not live with them – a significant drop from 48% last year. Slightly more, 34%, say they will eat alone or with just their households – driving down the average gathering size to five people versus eight last year.
As a result, IRI found consumer attitudes about the holidays are split. About a third of people report they are not looking forward to the holidays this year because they could not be with loved ones or enjoy the same traditions. At the same time, one in five say they are looking forward to celebrating something after a stressful year.
Either way, smaller but additional gatherings this Thanksgiving means fewer potlucks and more people preparing the entire feast themselves – some for the first time – which is a change that Del Monte Foods President and CEO Greg Longstreet says is an opportunity to engage new consumers as they learn to prepare family favorites and explore the possibilities of new traditions.
But to fully seize this moment, Longstreet explains in this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast that CPG companies will need to overcome lingering supply chain and inventory strains related to the pandemic to keep store shelves fully stocked while simultaneously inspiring home cooks during the holidays and beyond. To this end, he shares how Del Monte Foods is meeting these challenges by proactively adjusting forecasting and inventory management, teaming with other industry players and influencers to offer holiday solutions and aggressively innovating to combat consumer cooking fatigue well into the new year.
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A different kind of holiday season
Recognizing that this is “obviously a very different holiday season,” Longstreet said that Del Monte Foods is focused on delivering for consumers in three fundamental ways so that they can make the most of the time they have with the loved ones available.
The first is ensuring abundant supply so that consumers can find the products that they need and want to set their holiday tables and fill each occasion throughout the busy season and beyond.
Second, Del Monte Food is focused on helping create gatherings that are focused on comfort and connection, even if on a smaller scale, he said.
And third, helping consumers navigate what’s become the new normal well beyond the holidays. This includes making 20 plus meals at home during any given week as well as ensuring there are sufficient healthy snacks on hand to tide family members over between meals.
Creating connections and providing comfort to consumers
To help consumers create a sense of comfort and connection during this unique holiday season, CPG manufacturers and retailers must first recognize that holding a holiday celebration – of any size in any year – is a significant undertaking, and one on which many hosts traditionally have relied on friends, families and guests to help manage by contributing a dish or beverage or entertaining the children while hot ovens, flaming stoves and overstuffed fridges were managed.
This year, not only is that not an option, but many Americans and will be navigating meal prep for the first time – an undertaking that Longstreet aptly describes is “overwhelming,” and one that CPG companies like Del Monte Foods are well positioned to streamline based on their decades of experience and connections with top chefs.
“As the gatherings will be smaller this year, consumers still want it to incorporate favorite dishes using ingredients from brands they trust – like Del Monte Foods. And we really want to help them … especially the consumer that’s now being tasked to serve a holiday meal for the first time,” he said.
To do that, Del Monte Foods has invested in digital and social media to ensure consumers know how to prepare their favorite dishes, such as green bean casserole, which the company has teamed with McCormick’s French’s brand to promote this year.
“We’ve also invested with online influencers to help engage younger cooks and provide recipe inspiration, such as Italian chef Laura Vitale, who’s working with us on some fantastic dishes that use our Contadina products,” he said.
The company also is pursuing traditional in store promotions to improve access to key holiday ingredients and foods, and drive discovery by new consumers, which are up 30% for the brand during the pandemic, Longstreet noted.
Ensuring uninterrupted supply
Meeting the needs of holiday shoppers during a normal year requires considerable coordination between manufacturers and retailers, but preparing the seasonal rush this year has been particularly challenging given many industry players already were running at full capacity before the holidays to meet heightened demands due to the pandemic.
This was also true for Del Monte Foods, which like others saw a significant sales spike in March and April and typically sees a sales increase of 70% during the holiday season. To ensure it could meet the surge of year-end sales, Longstreet said Del Monte Foods worked closely with partners across the supply chain, it started the pack season earlier and has been running its plants, warehouses and distribution centers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Inspiring consumers through innovation
Looking forward, Longstreet sees no sign that the increased demand during the pandemic and now the holiday season will slow any time soon, but he does think it will evolve as consumers grow weary of cooking meal after meal after meal at home day after day, week after week.
With this in mind, he says, Del Monte Foods has invested heavily in innovation during the past two years with more than 50 new products coming to market, including during the pandemic, to ensure that it families have solutions for eating occasions that are not just nutritious and convenient, but also interesting.
“As we look to the New Year, I think of the challenges is, quite honestly, consumers are going to be living through COVID throughout the winter months. They’re going to be hunkered down at home, preparing a lot of meals for themselves and their families, and there is a certain amount of boredom that has occurred and will be occurring. We think consumers are tired of preparing a lot of the same meals,” Longstreet said. “It is a challenge, but we also think it represents an opportunity.”
To help meet this need, Longstreet says Del Monte Foods has continued to innovate throughout the pandemic so far, with a focus on easy, flavorful solutions, such as those offered by its Savory Infusions spice combinations and through its tomato business, including a pizza squeeze product that brings great Italian flavor to homemade pizza.
Going all in on the plant-based trend, the company also has innovated in the grab-and-go snack and lunch space with a line of frozen handheld sandwiches and a number of breakfast solutions, like its Fruit Crunch parfait which blends a coconut crème parfait and granola.
Looking back at the past eight months, Longstreet acknowledges the pandemic has brought more than its fair share of challenges, but he says he has enjoyed the opportunity to step up and help consumers during this time. He adds that much of the work and investments made during the pandemic will help pave the way for a bright future for the company and consumers alike.