Retail

How Retailers Are Talking Turkey This Thanksgiving

How Retailers Are Talking Turkey This Thanksgiving

Perhaps against all odds, Thanksgiving is happening in 2020. On Thursday morning, millions will rise early to make the coffee, slide the turkey into the oven and start their annual perusal of their green bean casserole recipe, much as they have for the last 157 years since President Abraham Lincoln first officially declared the holiday in 1863.

Okay, in the interest of full and accurate historical disclosure, no one was checking a green bean casserole recipe in 1863, because there was no such thing as of yet. The classic Thanksgiving meal of beans, cream of mushroom soup and crispy fried onions wasn’t officially around until 1955, when Campbell’s Soup employee Dorcas Reilly first reportedly invented it. In 1863, according to historical sources, the meal consisted of boiled potatoes, pudding, cheese, stewed oysters, rice, mince pies and fruit. But turkey (along with duck and chicken) was definitely the centerpiece of the dining experience – and given its size at all points in history, it has taken forever to cook, meaning that every Thanksgiving includes (for someone) the thankless job of getting up early and making sure the turkey starts roasting on time.

But for all that has remained the same over the last century-and-a-half or so, this year Thanksgiving will be a little different. While defined as a holiday for gathering with loved ones around a laden table, this year – in the era of COVID-19 and skyrocketing case counts nationwide – the CDC is officially asking people not to head home to congregate in large groups this season. Instead, it would like them to stay put at home with the loved ones they already live with. According to AAA, fewer Americans will be getting on the road to visit family and friends this year than last.

In short, it will be a very different Thanksgiving for many Americans in the U.S. when it dawns on Thursday – leaving the grocers who sell the ingredients of the meal that will continue to be the centerpiece of the day to find new ways to bring them in for the holiday season.

All possible joking aside, going into the national day of giving thanks is going to be especially hard on some people this year, simply because of how very little the year has given them to be grateful for. Nationally, the unemployment rate at last check was roughly 7 percent – a massive improvement over late spring, when that figure had swelled to over 14 percent, but still high. And with more business shutdowns looming, it looks to be set to start rising again. As of this week’s unemployment filings release, 742,000 Americans had filed for first-time benefits, an increase from the previous week’s 709,000 and the first weekly increase after eight consecutive weeks of declines. Moreover, CNBC reports, the 742,000 claims filed came in ahead of Wall Street’s estimate of 710,000.

And, as reports this week have confirmed, workers who have lost their jobs still have more losses ahead of them. About 12 million jobless workers around the U.S. are currently set to lose their unemployment benefits the day after Christmas, according to a study released on Wednesday (Nov. 18) by The Century Foundation, two government programs authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) expire on Dec. 26.

The first is the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Assistance program, which provides jobless aid to freelance and gig workers. That would cut 7.3 million contract workers off from income, while another 4.6 million workers will face being dropped from PEUC benefits.

To say that millions of American families are entering this holiday season unusually stressed would be a dramatic understatement. So it’s good to see some major retailers giving back for the holiday.

For example, Walmart is working in partnership with Ibotta to give Thanksgiving dinners away to shoppers. The promotion, which is pitched as feeding a family of five for Thanksgiving, gives shoppers the option to purchase nine Thanksgiving staples at Walmart or Walmart.com, then submit their receipt for a 100 percent cash back rebate on qualified items (turkey breast roast and sides). To claim the offer, consumers must first download and register with the app and then add the free Thanksgiving dinner offers to their Ibotta account. From there, they must link their Ibotta account with the Walmart account so they can directly submit their receipt, after which they will get a cash back rebate.

Food Lion is also kicking in for the holidays. From Nov. 11 through Dec. 15, shoppers can donate a specially marked, prepacked "Holidays Without Hunger" food box for $5, or make a cash donation at checkout. The box contains mac and cheese, brown rice, green beans, canned chicken, spaghetti noodles and pasta sauce. Food Lion will then donate the box directly to the local food bank or partner feeding agency in the store’s community. One hundred percent of cash donations benefit Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the U.S.

“At Food Lion, we believe no one should go hungry, especially during the holiday season – and this year, perhaps more than ever, has been difficult for our neighbors,” said Jennifer Blanchard, Food Lion’s director of community relations. “Our associates and customers care about their neighbors, and the ‘Holidays Without Hunger’ box offers an easy and affordable way to make a difference in their towns and cities.”

And the charity isn’t limited to brick-and-mortar stores. Fresh Direct, which is being acquired by Food Lion parent company Ahold Delhaize, is teaming up with City Harvest, Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving and Virtu Financial to give away 700 turkeys near its Bronx, New York headquarters.

“The entire Virtu family is honored to support City Harvest’s tremendous efforts to feed New Yorkers in need, especially during the pandemic. We are excited for the opportunity to be on-site to help distribute some of the thousands of turkeys donated in coordination with City Harvest this holiday season,” added Doug Cifu, CEO of Virtu Financial.

Giant’s Giant Wording Choice Error

Then there’s the flip side of how to get Thanksgiving right. Well-respected scions of the publishing world that we are here at PYMNTS, we know that the secret to good writing is basically good editing. Because no idea is a good idea if half the words in it are spelled wrong.

But perhaps we can excuse the team at Giant for underappreciating the invaluable gold that is a good editor, as copy isn’t normally their thing. Still, when the goal is to bring in as many people as possible with a print ad, it’s probably best to hire a professional, lest one accidentally publish something really, really dumb.  e imagine it is a lesson that the team at Giant will not soon forget.

The imaging on the Thanksgiving ad itself is fine, if a little bit standard. An attractive picture of their pre-made fruit, meat and cheese plate offerings, photographed to look particularly delicious and worthy of a spot on the appetizer table. So far, so good.

The caption, on the other hand, probably needed a little more workshopping.

"Hosting? Plan a super spread,” it read.

In a word, oops. Super spreader is, of course, the term collectively used to describe an event where the majority of people walk in uninfected with COVID and then walk out infected, due to their close proximity within the crowd to an infected person to two. The reason the CDC keeps warning people not to gather with friends and family for the Thanksgiving holiday is the concern that group Thanksgivings hold tremendous potential to be super-spreader events. Unless Giant is secretly working with the CDC to subliminally message people against Thanksgiving gatherings this year, it seems that using the term in an advertisement for the holiday was something of a massive misstep.

A misstep that Twitter was happy to call out early and often, wondering if Giant was actively trying to persuade them to shop someplace else. Giant, for its part, has offered a public apology, affirming that it is not actually trying to get people to host super-spreader events.

"We apologize for our advertisement in Savory, which used the language ‘super spread’ to describe an abundance of food,” the company said in a statement. “While in hindsight, the choice of words was a poor one, Giant had no intentions of insensitivity. We continue to encourage people to practice safe social distancing practices for celebrating the holidays in line with CDC recommendations.”

On the upside, it was a very attractive picture of their shrimp platter.

As to what long-term lesson in retail the very unusual 2020 season has to offer? It’s hard to know in such rarified circumstances what will stick in the long term, but if given the choice between giving customers something useful and enjoyable versus reminding them of something that terrifies them about the holiday season, our money would be on sticking with the giving.

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