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The Real-Time Data on How Young Consumers Are Celebrating Thanksgiving This Week

Turkey take-out for one or their usual traditional Thanksgiving feast with family? The week of the holiday, we used on-demand research to find out their of-the-minute plans for celebrating Thanksgiving during COVID…

It’s not news that the way young consumers will be celebrating Thanksgiving will look different this year. YPulse’s Thanksgiving and Winter Holiday Plans report surveyed young consumers about their plans last month, and found 37% of young consumers said their usual Thanksgiving plans would be cancelled because of COVID. The number of Gen Z and Millennials who planned to stay at home for Thanksgiving increased from 53% in 2019 to 60% this year, while the number who planned to travel to visit family or friends decreased from 31% in 2019 to 17% in 2020. But as the holiday has approached, many questions about what exactly what these revised holiday plans would look like have remained. The food industry has faced “muddled” forecasts about what will be appearing on consumers’ tables, with the New York Times reporting last month that the holiday disruption could lead to people buying smaller turkeys to accommodate smaller gatherings. Meanwhile, headlines about crowded airports have been flooding feeds, leading many to wonder if those plans to stay home had somehow changed.

So, with uncertainty about what exactly this COVID Thanksgiving will consist of remaining, we turned to YPulse’s on-demand research platform PULSE to get real-time answers about 16-34-year-olds’ plans for this Thursday—from how many people they’re planning to celebrate with to what they’re planning to put on the table. Here’s what we learned:

Our data shows that having a small indoor gathering with family/friends is the most common plan that young people have for the holiday, with 44% saying that’s what they’ll be doing to celebrate. This aligns with YPulse’s holiday report data that 65% of young people will be celebrating Thanksgiving with fewer people this year because of COVID-19. But while a small indoor gathering is the most common plan, the real-time data also shows that 32% will be having dinner with just those they live with or forgoing gathering completely this year. Meanwhile, 10% tell us that they’ve planned an outdoor gathering with family/friends this year—putting a new twist on the holiday.

While 51% of 13-39-year-olds agree: “I would like help from brands to figure out how to have virtual holiday celebrations this year,” and video conference platform Zoom announced that it is extending its 40-minute limit for the occasion, only 5% of young people say they’ll be planning with a completely virtual gathering, and 17% say they plan to video chat with family this Thanksgiving because of COVID-19 . They are far more likely to be finding ways to see loved ones in-person—and with small indoor gatherings the top type young people plan to have, we asked those who will be having a small gathering what safety precautions they are planning to follow, if any:

Those who are concerned about the number of Gen Z and Millennials who are planning to gather indoors for the holiday may be relieved to see that half of young people who plan to have a small indoor gathering for Thanksgiving say that it will be with the friends and family who are currently in their COVID “bubble.” The majority of those having small indoor gatherings are planning for some sort of safety precautions to be followed, with 25% saying they will be tested in advance, 20% saying they will be quarantining before seeing one another, and 19% saying they will be wearing masks when together. While these measures of course won’t make for a completely safe holiday, it is clear that most young people are attempting to guard against the virus in some fashion.

So, what will be put on the table at their gatherings? We asked all 400 16-34-year-olds about the food they’re planning to have to see if downsized gatherings mean downsized meals:

Food brands could be in for a pleasant surprise: 41% of young people say they plan to have their traditional Thanksgiving dinner, the same way they usually make it, and 22% say they’re planning a traditional dinner with smaller portions. But it’s important to remember that fewer large gatherings means more small gatherings—which actually means more dinners being prepared overall. It could be that while some individual meals will be downsized, the sheer number of consumers who plan to cook a meal when they would usually be eating at their relatives could be a boon to grocery sales.

Another opportunity for brands: 20% of young consumers say they’re planning a non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner, making whatever they want. Food brands who have been shut out of the holiday have a rare moment to enter the Thanksgiving landscape. Young people who are throwing tradition out the window for the year could be looking for ideas on what non-turkey meals to cook. Who knows, Thanksgiving tacos could become a tradition thanks to this pandemic year.