Tryptophan Tidings: How Americans Indulge at Thanksgiving

Tryptophan Tidings: How Americans Indulge at Thanksgiving

While some of us have yet to think about setting the table and pre-heating the oven, most of us can metaphorically smell the roasting turkey and all the trimmings that come with it. Given the rush to dining rooms across the nation on Thanksgiving, it’s no surprise that food and beverage retailers see a sales bump this time of year—one that rivals those that often form along our collective belt lines.

The interesting aspect of our purchasing behavior this time of year, however, is how it drives annual sales in specific categories. While it’s no revelation that turkey is a big seller in November, it’s somewhat surprising that November accounts for almost half of all turkey pounds sold annually in the meat department. That 47% in volume equates to roughly 28% of turkey dollar sales each year.

But Thanksgiving dinner isn’t about parts of the bird—Americans want to carve up the whole kit and caboodle when they sit down for their November feasts. And feast we do, as November accounts for 77% of America’s whole turkeys sold each year. In fact, retailers sell more than $201 million in whole turkeys the week of Thanksgiving—accounting for 38% of all whole turkey sales for the year.

And All the Trimmings

Despite our inclination to refer to Thanksgiving as Turkey Day, there’s more to the big dinner than just turkey. Enter the trimmings. After all, we need something in our systems to counter balance all the tryptophan, so we don’t fall asleep in our mashed potatoes and miss the afternoon NFL game.

So what else is in our shopping baskets at Thanksgiving?

Fresh foods make up a big part of our holiday spreads, and that means sales in the fresh areas spike the week of Thanksgiving. Americans also spend $85.7 million on potatoes and $41 million on onions to help add some color and flavor to the main course.

But no matter how much we load up our plates, we’ve always got room for dessert. And while pumpkin has made its way to a dizzying array of foods and beverages these days, there’s no substitute for a slice of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. In fact, 29% of each year’s pumpkin pie sales occur the week of Thanksgiving (46% of sales happen in the month of November). Pecan pie, another holiday staple, also rallies in November, as 22% of all pecan pie sales each year take place the week of Thanksgiving.

Perfect Pairings

In addition to enjoying turkey and all of the trimmings around Thanksgiving and the year-end holidays, Americans don’t hold back when it comes to opening a bottle or two along the way. But while the uptick in wine consumption this time of year is par for the course, the varieties that see the biggest sales lifts is telling. Specifically, shares of Riesling and Pinot Noir sales are 30% and 20% greater, respectively, during Thanksgiving than the rest of the year.

And while the typical liquor store offers an array of spirits, wine and beer, table wine is the preferred adult beverage at Thanksgiving. According to a recent Nielsen study conducted by Harris Poll, more than 50% of Americans 21 and older say they’re most likely to drink table wine at Thanksgiving, dwarfing the 26% who say they’re most likely to drink runner-up beer, and the 25% who say they’re most likely to drink spirits. Comparatively, 47% said they prefer to drink table wine at Christmas while sparkling wine takes center stage at New Year’s, with 53% identifying it as the adult beverage they’re most likely to drink as the countdown approaches. Which holiday stands out most for beer preference? It’s the Super Bowl, followed closely by the Fourth of July.


The insights from this article were derived from several sources.

  • The food sales were derived from Nielsen’s FreshFacts® Point of Sale Data and FreshFacts® Shopper Insights Powered by Datalogix.
  • The wine sales were derived from RMS ScanTrack data.
  • The alcoholic beverage preference data was derived from an English language Nielsen survey (conducted by Harris Poll) of nearly 2,000 U.S. consumers 21 and older from Aug. 20-22, 2014.