Holiday shortages push consumers to shop earlier, explore alternative stores, categories

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/ martin-dm
Source: Getty/ martin-dm

Related tags: Supply chain, Inflation, Thanksgiving

Despite recent warnings that key holiday foods may be out-of-stock or more expensive than previous years due to ongoing supply chain challenges, consumer concern about obtaining food and the impact of inflation hasn’t changed much compared to August, according to new reports from IRI, The Hartman Group and FMI: The Food Industry Association.

The lack of change in consumer sentiment is not the same as a lack of concern, nor does it suggest shopper behavior will remain the same – rather brands and retailers can expect seasonal purchases to begin earlier than normal and be more diverse as holiday revelers plan to stockpile their kitchens in advance and embrace alternatives when confronted with out-of-stocks, according to FMI and The Hartman Group’s US Grocery Shopper Trends Tracker Holidays ​report released yesterday.

Far from feeling cavalier, the report found 53% and 43% of shoppers are worried about rising prices and out-of-stocks, respectively – figures that FMI says are “unchanged from August, despite recent news reports amplifying these concerns.”

When it comes to buying groceries specifically for holiday meals, slightly more shoppers – 58% -- expressed some degree of concern, according to the report. About a quarter of shoppers surveyed by FMI expressed concern that retailers would run out of a favorite holiday food – a figure that jumps to 45% among households with children.

In response, 18% of shoppers indicated they would plan and shop further in advance for their Thanksgiving meals this year than previous years. Others are more willing to roll with the punches, with 47% reporting they would try something new and 33% saying they would look for a new recipe if items they want are out of stock.

“Others will turn to either the grocer’s fresh-prepared department (22%) or turn to a restaurant (18%) to fulfill their needs,”​ the report adds.

Holiday staples may be in short supply

While out-of-stocks have plagued the food and beverage industry since the start of the pandemic with different categories hit harder at different times, several holiday staples are facing shortages as winter festivities hit their stride, according to IRI.

Late last month, IRI warned of “significant out-of-stock rates on several Thanksgiving-related grocery categories,”​ as of the week ending Oct. 19. These include staples such as whipped toppings, liquid gravy, frozen pie & pastry shells, refrigerated pies and bakery pies, which were down 5 to 11 percentage points in late October compared to the same time last year, and 1% to 9% lower than the recent two-month average.

In addition, early indications suggest other Thanksgiving favorites could soon be in short supply as demand increases, including cranberries and stuffing, IRI reports.

The shortages also likely will impact pricing, with retailers running 1 to 9 percentage points fewer promotions across affected categories compared to last year.

This is on top of already higher prices due to inflation, IRI notes.

“On average, prices in these five categories have risen about 3.6% over this time last year, with frozen pie/pastry shells showing the highest pricing increase of 6% over the year-ago period,”​ IRI cautions.

The consumer research firm suggests that higher prices and out-of-stocks could prompt some consumers to switch retailers as they scout their favorite products, or embrace substitutions – such as fresh for frozen desserts – which could place additional pressures on other parts of the store and supply chain.

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