5 Holiday Trends to Watch

Grocers that pay attention to these should see higher sales during festive season
Barbara Sax
Contributing Editor
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Post-pandemic, consumers have been rethinking their alcohol consumption habits, with many moving toward a "sober curious" lifestyle and trying alcohol alternative products during the holidays and beyond.

Retailers look forward to the annual boost in sales driven by increased entertaining during the holiday season, but it never hurts to prime the pump with sure-fire offerings. Here are five trends likely to propel sales this year:

1. Pumpkin Spice: Earlier and Drinkable

Consumers can’t get enough of pumpkin spice, and the season for these autumnal-inspired products is starting earlier than ever. “Pumpkin spice has solidified its role as autumn’s comfort flavor,” affirms Darren Seifer, food and beverage analyst for Chicago-based Circana. “Marketers should show consumers how they can easily flavor other foods and beverages to help them feel this comfort during more occasions.” IRI data shows that pumpkin/pumpkin spice beverages are gaining share, specifically in the coffee/specialty category, in which pumpkin/pumpkin spice coffee has gained about five percentage points in the past three years. The flavor is also showing up in more dairy alternative products: Chobani recently introduced Oatmilk Pumpkin Spice, a pumpkin spice flavored oat drink, and GoodPop has added oatmilk Pumpkin Spice Latte pops to its lineup. 

2. The Rise of Mocktails

Post-pandemic, consumers have been rethinking their alcohol consumption habits. As the “sober curious” lifestyle gains traction, sales of low- and no-ABV beverages are on the rise. According to Mintel research, nearly four in 10 consumers closely (22%) or occasionally (16%) follow a sober curious lifestyle. “Our data shows that most sober curious consumers are primarily interested in turning alcohol into an occasional indulgence, suggesting future opportunities for alcohol alternative beverages,” says Caleb Bryant, associate director of food and drink at Chicago-based Mintel. As the quality of canned mocktails continues to improve, retailers should think about adding more brands, such as Mixoloshe, Mockly, Ghia, Kin and Recess, to their beverage aisles to provide consumers with an alternative to alcohol for their holiday gatherings and to give them more choices as participation in Dry January continues to increase. 

3. Tik-Tok-Inspired Spreads

While charcuterie boards aren’t necessarily new, last year’s TikTok-inspired butter boards helped consumers reimagine the category beyond meat and cheese. “This holiday season, festive boards are evolving in new and creative ways, providing many opportunities for guests to interact at a gathering,” says Melissa Abbott, VP of syndicated studies at The Hartman Group, in Bellevue, Wash. “It also supports the larger trend toward personalization and premium snacking that can be shared with others.” Look for more dietary-focused (vegan, gluten-free, keto); artisan bread and cultured butter; geographically specific (Italian, Spanish, Korean, American South); dessert (mini treats, dipping sauces, seasonal fruit); brunch-inspired and hyper-local (emphasizing local purveyors and sustainability efforts) boards to emerge this season.

4. Prepared Food Uptick

Consumers and families will be opting for more healthy prepared foods/meal kits/side dishes and recipes that families can create together during the holiday season. “Our research shows that 14% of manufacturers listed meal prep/kits as one innovation plan they intend to address, and 49% of manufacturers will consider seasonal product retail exclusives over the next six months,” notes Andy Keenan, EVP and general manager at Irvine, Calif.-based Advantage Solutions. While the holiday season places an additional strain on family meal prep, kits and prepared elements can help ease that stress. A recent report from Arlington, Va.-based FMI – The Food Industry Association revealed that two-thirds of shoppers want more healthful prepared options as well as more heat-and-eat vegetables, side dishes and globally inspired choices. According to Keenan, manufacturers and retailers can answer the call with a mix of prepared foods and recipe ideas powered by promotions that bundle items together to make meal prep easy for consumers at a traditionally hectic time. 

5. Lean into Nostalgia

Comfort childhood foods have been making a comeback, and not just for breakfast: Mintel research reveals that 73% of consumers enjoy things that remind them of their past, and the holidays are a huge nostalgia trigger. Favorites from the past, from mac and cheese and pizza bites to classic cereals and candy brands, are re-emerging with better-for-you formulations. As a result, products that Whole Foods’ 2023 “Foods Trend Report” calls “the ultimate mashup of throwback indulgences with better ingredients and special diets in mind” are appearing on shelves. Earlier this year, Mighty Yum launched a line of plant-based lunch kits, and more gluten-free mac-and- cheese products have entered the market. Expect more food nostalgia-inspired additions this holiday season.

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