Could Super Bowl LVI Finally Outperform Thanksgiving At Grocery Stores In The US?

Written By Derek Helling on November 22, 2021

For decades upon decades, Thanksgiving has reigned as the undisputed king of holidays for beverage and food retailers. This year, however, might just be the best chance at a serious challenge for Super Bowl grocery shopping.

Comparing trends for both events reveals a path to an upset for Super Bowl LVI against Thanksgiving 2021. While we don’t know which two teams will meet on Feb. 13, 2022, yet, the biggest event of the year for sports betting in Iowa might deliver a win for grocers in the state regardless.

Super Bowl grocery shopping trends in the past

With under three months until the big game, it probably comes as no surprise that the Super Bowl is a huge deal for retailers. Specifically, retailers who deal in beverages and food.

In 2006, ACNielsen projected fans spent over $12.76 million on beer for the game alone. The prior year, consumers across the US purchased about 900,000 more cases in the three weeks leading up to the game than during normal weeks.

Beer wasn’t alone in seeing such a spike. Carbonated, non-alcoholic beverages plus salty snacks see massive bumps in sales. Andrew Burke, VP of Marketing at Diamond Foods, Inc., said his company considers Super Bowl “the most important single day when it comes to snack food consumption.”

Over the years since, those trends have only grown. In 2019, Frito-Lay North America’s Chief Commercial Officer Steven Williams called Super Bowl Sunday, “one of the busiest shopping days of the year for snacks.” Frito-Lay’s own research showed that nine out of 10 viewers for the game planned to have a snack item of some sort.

Those same snacking trends that make the Super Bowl such a boon for retailers also work to keep the game playing second-fiddle to Thanksgiving, though. It’s all about accessibility and traditions.

At similar volumes, higher-end items outperform

While Super Bowl shoppers grab potato chips and salsa by the caseload, Thanksgiving calls for an entirely different menu. That’s the secret sauce behind why Thanksgiving normally outperforms.

It’s simple math. While corn and potato chips average between $3 and $7 per bag, the average cost of a turkey is around $1.07 per pound or about $25. Additionally, while beer is the most popular beverage for Super Bowl parties, Thanksgiving is when consumers tend to splurge on more expensive beverages like spirits and wine.

Given that Thanksgiving celebrations are just as popular as Super Bowl parties in the US, the math just ultimately tends to favor Thanksgiving. Most consumers aren’t buying the eight bags of chips it might take to equal the sales power of a single turkey.

By the same token, a single bottle of wine can represent a greater sale than an entire case of beer. But, what if consumers didn’t follow those trends? What if they behaved for Thanksgiving more as they do on Super Bowl Sunday? That seems a possibility this year.

Why this year might be different from its predecessors

It doesn’t look like there will be fewer Thanksgiving celebrations this year. Despite busier airports and higher gas prices, travel forecasts are not curbed for Thanksgiving 2021.

At the same time, that might contribute to the overall phenomenon. Forking out more for gas could diminish food budgets. To try to manage the expenses, it seems consumers are doing more shopping earlier this year.

In fact, IRI says that sales of Thanksgiving items for the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving have been at a historical high of a 63% surge. While that alone might point to a simple time shift of the same sales, it’s not that simple.

Research from Numerator suggests that cost is one of the factors driving those earlier sales as well as concerns of supply shortages. Whether retailers have made the necessary adjustments and rolled out their promotions in time could ultimately decide how this year’s holiday will perform.

The Numerator poll also says respondents planned to reduce spending this year, with alcohol purchases being at the top of the list. If there’s less booze on the table at Thanksgiving, that provides an opportunity for the Super Bowl to pull even.

It’s important to take this research with a grain of salt. The Numerator study, for example, showed the responses of 350 people in a country of over 300 million. Additionally, the study doesn’t share how it accounted for any demographic peculiarities if it did so at all.

There’s also no guarantee that Super Bowl spending in February won’t be down to the same degree these results suggest might be the case for Thanksgiving 2021. Should the data actually follow the normal trends for the Super Bowl and these suggestions for Thanksgiving, though, 2022 might finally be the year that the big game is no turkey.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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