An essential part of the holidays is gathering with your people to celebrate family, friends, and the milestones of the calendar year. For many Americans, this means decking the halls fantastic, making a mountain of food, and buying anything and everything to make the entertaining process easier—and more fun. We combed our POS and consumer databases to discover what people buy to entertain throughout the holiday season. Find out what’s hot during Holiday 2016 across the home and food sectors.
In general, and specifically with the Millennial cohort, meals eaten outside the home have been on the decline over the past few years in the U.S. Americans are dining out less and eating at home more, with 82 percent of all meals consumed sourced from home. Chalk it up to consumers tightening their wallets post-recession and slow and narrow economic improvements that aren’t significant enough to shake Americans’ conditioned cost-savings behavior.
Meals eaten at other people’s homes have increased, too. Between 2013 and 2015, the number of meals eaten at another person’s home wavered between 32 and 33 meals per person each year, on average. In 2016, this figure jumped by 19 percent to an average of 38 meals eaten at another person’s home over the course of the year, shown by our National Eating Trends® survey and custom research.
Source: The NPD Group/National Eating Trends® and custom research
Our Vice President and Food Industry Analyst David Portalatin attributes this jump primarily to the dinner meal occasion—which increased from 9 to 11 meals eaten at another person’s home from 2015 to 2016. “In-home or away from home, dinner is the most social meal occasion by far, during which Americans are least likely to eat alone. Only 33 percent of dinner meal occasions were eaten alone this year, compared to 48 percent of total meal occasions,” David explains. And at home, Americans eat dinner with guests during 9 percent of all dinner occasions—the highest for any meal occasion.
The tendency for consumers to dine at their own home or the homes of other is perhaps best illustrated on New Year’s Eve—and it’s strongest among Millennials. In the week leading up to the turn of 2016, we asked U.S. adults how they planned to spend New Year’s Eve. Among those who went to a bar, club, or restaurant, the generational breakdown was pretty even: 39 percent of New Year’s Eve restaurant goers were under 35, 30 percent were aged 35-54, and 30 percent over 55 years of age. But looking at survey respondents who planned to host or attend a house party on New Year’s, 60 percent were under 35 years of age—demonstrating that Gen Y and Z are opting to skip overpriced cover charges and the fight for the bartender’s attention in favor of cozier evenings in someone’s home.
Source: The NPD Group/National Eating Trends® and custom research, December 20-30, 2015
Entertaining around the holidays is foremost about the people. Aside from the company with whom we surround ourselves, it’s all about the food. So what, and where, are people eating for the biggest meal occasions of the holiday season—Thanksgiving and Christmas?
David Portalatin describes Thanksgiving and Christmas as overwhelmingly celebrated at home. On Thanksgiving specifically, home is where the stomach is. Our National Eating Trends survey found 48 percent of Americans eat at home on Thanksgiving Day, while 44 percent are invited over to someone else’s home. This leaves only 3 percent of Americans who go out to eat at a full-service restaurant.
Restaurants shouldn’t shutter their doors completely on Thanksgiving, though. To start, more than 19 percent of consumers eat Thanksgiving Day breakfast at a restaurant (the main feast isn’t the only meal of that day). And even when people entertain at home, they still look to restaurants to provide appetizers or entrées for their affairs. We found 29 percent of Thanksgiving Day meal occasions included one item sourced ready-to-eat at foodservice, while only 57 percent of these meals are completely homemade.
For Christmas Eve meals, consumers are twice as likely as Thanksgiving to go to a full-service restaurant (6 percent vs. 3 percent). Since the Christmas holiday entails meals on both the eve and day of, it affords those celebrating the opportunity to enjoy both the comforts of home cooking and the luxury of a prepared meal.
It’s less expensive to cook a turkey dinner this year, thanks to decreased food commodity prices across the board. So what fare are people serving when company’s over? The simple days of pot roasts and potatoes are now over. While the holidays are typically considered a time for indulgence, our consumer insights partner, CultureWaves, found that a healthier approach to cooking has influenced holiday menus across America. While the turkey may always remain the pièce de résistance on Thanksgiving, it’s gotten a makeover with ethnic spices and unique cooking formats. Whether it’s Cajun-brined, deep-fried, Tuscan-rolled, pomegranate-molassesglazed, or Carolina-barbequed, Americans have their turkey their way.
The turkey’s entourage is changing, too. CultureWaves says traditional side dishes like green bean casserole are being swapped out for healthier alternatives like a cranberry, shallots and quinoa salad, and in many homes, white potatoes and rolls are removed from the table completely. Since our nation as a whole is more health-conscious and accepting of people’s diet choices, the side dish portion sizes are getting smaller on many American tables, and holiday diners are more likely to attempt to stick to their health plan during the holidays.
David Portalatin echoes this sentiment, explaining that Gen Y and Z in particular have grown up with more diversity, access to information, and exposure to new and different things. These experiences have worked their way into their palates, giving younger generations tastes for ethnic cuisines with bold flavors. And for these cohorts especially, meals are more than just sustenance; they’re experiences.
Though more at-home eating translates to less promising news for restaurants, the home industry has benefitted handsomely as more people opt to eat at home and spend money on the tools required to create a festive experience for their guests, explains our Executive Director and Home Industry Analyst, Joe Derochowski. Sales of entertaining gadgets grew 11 percent in the 12 months ending in August 2016. Almost all of the top entertaining tools are for alcohol consumption, with cork screws selling best, followed by ice cube trays, coasters, toothpicks, and flasks. The gadgets with the greatest year-over-year growth were ice buckets, wine tool sets, and coasters.
Source: The NPD Group / Retail Tracking Service, 12 Months Ending August 2016
Total beverageware spend was up 7 percent. Barware and entertaining related items drove that growth, including serveware, cups/mugs, ‘Old Fashioned’ glasses, and pilsner/pub glasses. Joe Derochowski says, “similar to New Year’s, when Millennials would rather host their friends than go out to a bar, they also prefer to entertain, be social, and stay connected with their friends at home throughout the year. This helps fuel the growth in entertaining gadgets and beverageware”.
In addition to food, friends, and family, another essential element of a successful home gathering is ambience. A warm and inviting atmosphere can be achieved with physical décor to see and touch. It can also be communicated through smell, be it the warm scent of a burning fireplace, aromas of vegetables roasting in the oven, or the smell of fresh pine. Home fragrance products like candles, diffusers, and room sprays also add to the holiday atmosphere. These olfactory sensations are an essential part of home holiday gatherings. Our retail tracking data shows sales of prestige home fragrances peak around the holiday season (from October to December). Scentiments, our new suite of consumer insights and tools for the U.S. fragrance industry, allows us to take a deep dive on home scents as they relate to entertaining.
Our beauty director and industry analyst, Kissura Craft, describes home scents as the fastest-growing segment in fragrances, outpacing the other segments anywhere from 19 to 27 points. What proportion of Americans use home scents, and which products do they buy? The Scentiments online survey (fielded July through August 2016 to more than 8,000 U.S. adults) found scented candles are the most popular product, purchased by 43 percent of survey respondents. Next in popularity are scented room-spray fresheners (used by 41 percent of respondents), plug-in air fresheners (30 percent), and clip-on air fresheners (21 percent). Most often, consumers use these products in their living or family room (69 percent of respondents) followed by the bathroom (66 percent of respondents).
Many consumers use scented home products to create a welcoming environment for guests, closely linked to home entertaining: 10 percent of buyers use home scents when guests are over. And this number is higher (13 percent) for younger Millennials (aged 18-24). In our Scentiments survey, 49 percent of respondents claimed to make these purchases to create an inviting and comfortable atmosphere. In addition, 35 percent bought home scents specifically to make a good impression when guests are over. This figure skews higher for Millennials (44 percent for younger Millennials and 47 percent for older Millennials, aged 24-34). While we all love the smell of a roasting turkey and fixings, let’s face it—sometimes your guests don’t want to smell (or smell like) onions all evening. That’s why 46 percent of respondents said they buy home scent products to cover or mask odors—of cooking or pets, for example.
Preferences for home scents vary by season, though most consumers tend to stick to their preferred scent families overall. These include sweet/fruity, tropical, food/baking, warm/woodsy, and clean/light. Our survey reported 31 percent of home scent users adjust their scents with the changing seasons. Older Millennials and Gen X are the mostly likely of all age groups to change scents with the seasons (35 percent). People associate autumn with aromas of leaves, pumpkin, cool air, cinnamon, apples, and cider. When it comes to Christmas, they think of scents like baking cookies, gingerbread, pine, peppermint, cinnamon, and crisp air.
“It’s no surprise that scents associated with the holidays rose to the top two spots in November (for example, Nest Holiday and Nest Birchwood Pine candles), replacing the top-selling pear, freesia, and eucalyptus mint scents of September and October. These winter scents help consumers get into and set the mood as the holiday season begins. And the holiday-scented candle from Nest continues to be the best-seller into December,” Kissura explains.
So if you’re entertaining or attending someone’s else gathering this holiday, may it be in the warmth of someone’s home, filled with uniquely flavored, great food (homemade, or ordered in), stocked with the required tools to enjoy your drink, and smelling nice.