This time last year, most of the country was still in the thick of social distancing and planning their holidays via Zoom instead of in-person family gatherings. We all hoped that 2021 would be better, and we could get back to normal.

Well, that didn’t happen. Certainly, the country is closer to normalcy after about 18 months of COVID-19 news. But that doesn’t mean that the upcoming Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holiday dinners will be the same massive feasts that they have been in years past. Things have changed, meal plans have changed, and processors need to be ready to change with them.

As this article from The National Provisioner shows, the traditional Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas ham still have their place on many menus. However, a combination of things may be changing dinner plans for others. In some instances, families are still choosing to have smaller holidays, without the large extended relatives all gathering. In other cases, consumers are looking for a change to the traditional center-of-the-plate entrée and are willing to look to beef, lamb or even seafood for their meals. Then there is the case of supply and demand. The supply chain is not up to full strength, as labor shortages are making it harder for processors to meet their orders and satisfy customer demands. If holiday cooks can’t find their preferred protein, they may have to look for a backup plan.

There are opportunities for processors and retailers in this uncertainty. Pick a few alternative gourmet options for consumers – prime rib, rack of lamb, roasted goose – and give them information on how to prepare them. If a shopper can’t get their usual turkey or ham, or they can’t find it in the size they want, they are going to need some guidance for a Plan B. Be that voice of reason, get the consumer out of their dinner preparation panic mode, and help them leave your store with a dinner, sides, and confidence that they can cook an excellent holiday feast with an out-of-the-ordinary entrée.

Sam Gazdziak