Rising food prices impact Thanksgiving meals across the U.S. this year (e.g., D’Angelo and Bickel, 2022; Dickler, 2022; Pinsker, 2022), and winter holidays (e.g., Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, new year, etc.). In this article, we use data from the Gartner Survey of Food and Agriculture Policy to investigate how consumers’ expected inflation affects their winter holiday meals.
We surveyed 1,011 consumers in November 2022 as part of the Gartner Food and Agriculture Policy Survey. This is the third quarterly panel discussion aimed at better understanding consumer perceptions of food and agriculture issues. In this survey, we asked how consumers expect higher food prices to affect their holiday meals and how they plan to manage costs. The survey was conducted using Qualtrics Panels, recruiting respondents matched to the U.S. population by gender, income, and census region (farm doctor daily, December 1, 2022). As expected, we found that the majority of surveyed participants (88.0%) indicated that they usually celebrate the winter holidays with a meal. The remaining consumers said they don’t usually celebrate winter holidays (7.0%) or that their winter holiday celebrations don’t usually include a meal (4.9%).
We found that a majority (61.1%) of those who typically celebrate winter holidays with a meal said they expected inflation to affect their holiday meals (see Figure 1). These consumers tend to have lower incomes, are more likely to use nutrition assistance programs, and are more likely to be parents. How these consumers plan to respond to rising food prices when they eat has implications for food system stakeholders including farmers, grocery retailers, and restaurants.
Figure 1. Percentage of Consumers Expecting Inflation to Impact Holiday Meals
Below, we investigate the ways consumers expect inflation to affect their winter holiday meals. Discussions were based on 544 respondents (61.1%) who said they expected inflation to affect their meal and menu decisions. In particular, we asked these consumers 13 ways consumers might reduce holiday dining costs, including reducing the number of guests, changing the types of food served, and more. The results are listed in Table 1 and discussed in depth below. Additionally, we used open-ended questions to ask consumers for more context and other ways that rising food prices would affect their holiday meals.we include some of these quotes in the Discussion of Results below.
Table 1. How U.S. Consumers (N=544) Who Expect Inflation to Affect Their Winter Vacation Meals Plan to Manage Costs
|preventive solution||% of respondents|
|Great Deals on Planned Shopping for Holiday Ingredients||47.1%|
|Plan ahead to buy holiday ingredients to split the cost||43.2%|
|Plan to reduce the amount of food served at holiday meals||35.1%|
|Plan to reduce the amount of food served at holiday meals||34.4%|
|Plan to Change the Types of Food Served at Holiday Meals||30.1%|
|Plan to reduce meat offerings at holiday meals||25.6%|
|Plan to reduce the number of guests at holiday dinners||24.3%|
|Plan to reduce the number of holiday meals you buy from restaurants||21.7%|
|Plan to increase the amount of food guests bring for holiday meals||16.4%|
|Plan to increase use of government food assistance (SNAP, WIC, etc.) to get ingredients for holiday meals||16.0%|
|Plan to use your food bank or pantry more to get ingredients for holiday meals||12.7%|
|Plan to ask guests to pay part of grocery bill for holiday meals||9.7%|
|Planning to cancel the holiday dinner altogether||8.3%|
Note: Only consumers (n=544) who indicated that they expected inflation to affect winter holiday dining were asked which coping strategies they planned to use to manage costs.
Coping Mechanisms to Manage Rising Holiday Menu Costs
buy cheaper ingredients
We found that the most common way these consumers plan to manage winter meal costs is at the grocery store (see Figure 2). First, we found that 47.1% of these consumers said they planned to buy holiday ingredients. one).
Second, we found that 43.2% said they planned to shop in advance to spread the cost. One consumer noted, “It’s going to take a lot more planning. We’re already stocking up for winter meals.” Another said, “It’ll make me buy cheaper and wait for sales.”
Figure 2. Inflation changes shopping plans for holiday meals
Another way these consumers said they planned to reduce winter vacation costs was by reducing the amount of food on the table, both in terms of quantity and number of servings. We found that 35.1% of respondents said they planned to reduce the amount of food served at holiday meals (eg, “fewer desserts at family dinners, generally fewer choices”; “we will reduce recipes”). Likewise, we found that 34.4% said they planned to reduce the amount of food served at holiday meals (eg, “not as big as before”; “fewer portions”).
Notably, food waste is particularly high at this time of year (EPA, 2020; Karidis, 2015). Increased food costs can translate into reduced food waste. “We’re not going to overbuy,” one consumer noted, while another said they’ll be planning meals after the holidays that won’t go to waste, saying they’ll “prepare items that can be reused for next week’s meals.” However, some consumers point out that fewer quantities mean fewer leftovers—this has implications for the traditions of sharing and leftovers, as studies have found that sharing leftovers and other gift-giving are important ways to strengthen bonds with family and friends (Cappellini and Parsons , 2012a; Cappellini and Parsons, 2012b; Belk, 2010). One consumer noted, “This will reduce the amount of food distributed to family/leftovers.” Another said, “I won’t be able to send as much food home with guests.”
Figure 3. Inflation changes holiday meal prep plans
These consumers also indicated that they plan to switch menu items during the winter holidays to reduce costs (see Figure 3). 30.1% said they plan to change the type of food they eat for the holidays (e.g., “less cheese, seafood and appetizers”; “less desserts”; “may not eat the appetizers and snacks we usually serve at Christmas” Eve ”). One consumer noted, “I might completely change my menu this year. “
Most notably, more than a quarter of respondents worried that inflation would affect their holiday meals said they planned to reduce the amount of meat served. In addition to changing the amounts, some noted that they might change the types of meat dishes they serve (eg, “not as big a meat offering”; “chicken instead of turkey”). Some consumers (21.7%) said they planned to reduce the number of holiday meal purchases from restaurants. One customer noted that despite the menu changes, holiday traditions will remain, “We’ll have a simpler menu, but come together to celebrate good food.”
Double check the guest list
The cost of holiday meals has risen (FB, 2022; BLS, 2022; CFDAS, 2022), and hosts typically cover most of the cost. Here, we found that 24.3% of consumers concerned that inflation would affect their holiday dining indicated that they planned to reduce the number of guests (see Figure 4). Consumers pointed out, “Only invite immediate family members for festive dinners” and “I won’t have so many family members over.” One noted that having fewer guests affected how they felt about their vacation, saying: “It’s less fun with fewer people.”
While reducing the guest list is one option, others choose to increase guest responsibility. 16.4% said they plan to increase the amount of food guests bring to holiday meals. One consumer noted, “I’ll have a light meal and everyone will bring something to share.” Likewise, 9.7% said they plan to ask guests to pay a portion of the grocery bill for their holiday meal. Asking guests to share part of the bill can be more difficult to meet social norms (eg, CBS, 2017). “Made me tired of reception for fear of having to pay the bill alone,” said one consumer.
Figure 4. Inflation may change who is invited to (or pays for) holiday meals
Despite the increased cost, the vast majority of consumers will still partake in their holiday meals. Only a minority (8.3%) said they would cancel it. This is consistent with Thanksgiving news reports that many consumers continued to spend as usual despite higher prices (eg, D’Angelo and Bickel, 2022; Dickler, 2022). One consumer in the survey noted, “I will do everything possible to make sure meals don’t change.” Another said, “Food will just be more expensive.” Others noted that they plan to cut back on other aspects of the holiday, but meals will constant. For example, reducing business trips and giving fewer gifts.
These options are not available to all consumers. In particular, consumers struggling with food safety are likely to use a combination of strategies and make greater use of assistance. In particular, we found that 16.0% of consumers who expect inflation to affect their holiday meals said they planned to increase their use of government food assistance (e.g. SNAP, WIC) to buy ingredients for holiday meals, while 12.7% of consumers said they would Plan to increase the use of food banks or pantries to obtain ingredients for holiday meals. The holiday season tends to be a busy time of year for food banks and pantries, and rising food prices create difficulties for food banks themselves (eg, Kelley and Kulish, 2022; Feeding America, 2022).
Others said the added cost affected their mood about the holiday. One consumer said, “More appreciation for what I have,” and another said, “It makes my winter holiday meals less enjoyable.”
Results from Panel Three of the Gardner Food and Agriculture Policy Survey found that a majority of U.S. consumers who typically celebrate the winter holidays with a meal expect higher food prices to affect their meal plans and, perhaps, their traditions. We asked those who expected inflation to affect their holiday meal plans what strategies, if any, they planned to use to manage costs. The most common strategies are buying ingredient deals and shopping ahead to spread the cost. Consumers also commonly report that they plan to reduce the amount and quantity of food served, which, in addition to affecting holiday planning and the tradition of leftovers, may also reduce food waste. Consumers also said they planned to change menus, including changing the types of food served, reducing the amount of meat and buying less at restaurants. As winter holidays are an important time for food consumption, expectations for holiday menus have implications for suppliers across the food system. Despite rising food prices, only 8.3% said they planned to cancel the meal altogether — and, according to the Thanksgiving Meal report, many consumers said they planned to pay more but tried to keep the holiday meal Tradition remains unchanged. While consumers’ winter meal plans aren’t a perfect measure of what they’ll actually be doing when they dine, these results help us understand how consumers’ expected inflation will affect their holiday tables.
 Quotes with spelling or punctuation errors have been corrected.