COVID-19, Christmas ’20: Creating holiday opportunities for consumers

COVID-19, Christmas ’20: Creating holiday opportunities for consumers

October 13, 2020
6 min read

COVID-19 makes the 2020 winter holidays a challenging time for consumers, but there are ways for brands to make the season a success.

Staying home for the holidays

The winter holiday season is imperiled by the pandemic: consumers are anxious to see family and friends, but they are not especially looking forward to having to leave home to do so. As the pandemic cycles through, the extent to which we are willing to go out and socialize changes. Fear of infection and the ominous threat that too much gathering will result in reinforced lockdowns has caused consumers to be leery of dining inside a restaurant or having a drink at an indoor bar.

Holiday celebrations will be more focused on at-home parties and gatherings. According to Mintel’s COVID-19 Tracker (US, September 23-October 5), more than two in five consumers are comfortable with hosting a social gathering at their own home or attending a social gathering in someone else’s home.

Consumers in the UK are anxious to see family and friends, but they are not especially looking forward to having to leave home to do so. According to Mintel’s COVID-19 Tracker, (UK, July 9-15, 2020) nearly a quarter of consumers are extremely/very comfortable about going to an indoor restaurant or bar; while a third is comfortable with outdoor dining or drinking, as colder weather may put a damper on such activities.

Holiday Travel: grounded

Before the pandemic, winter vacations to exotic locales were popular, as were visits to family members in other regions. However, fear of contracting the virus, and potentially passing it on to other family or friends, has led consumers to revise their holiday plans.

US and UK consumers are leery about traveling and are not especially anxious to stay in unfamiliar surroundings. More than half of consumers are very/extremely uncomfortable about taking a flight or using public transportation and nearly half are not comfortable staying in a hotel.

Due to the virus’ hold on the US, Americans are likely to host close family and friends for a limited number of holiday meals at home which is likely to be the next normal for partying. Vacationing at home in a “staycation” will be preferred as opposed to elaborate holiday trips for consumers in the US and UK. However, manufacturers can make the holiday season a success by showing consumers how to bring the vacation experience home through venue-inspired foods and beverages.

Manufacturers and retailers of everything from food and drink to paper goods and party accessories can use the “at-home” space as launch pads for new packages or products, using individually packaged items such as snacks and treats, party favors, tabletop accents, or stocking stuffers.

Holiday spending may be curtailed

The pandemic is taking a toll on spending. At the end of September, a quarter of US consumers agreed that spending on leisure and entertainment was a lower priority for them, and over half agreed that vacation planning was a lower priority, according to Mintel’s COVID-19 Tracker (US, September 17-25). This suggests that exotic Christmas getaways are not likely to be top of mind for most consumers, and holiday gift lists may be pared back.

While sharing large boxes or big bowls may be too communal and too expensive during these challenging times, single-sized bags or boxes can be economical ways of sharing. They can also be premiumized for gifting with upscale flavors or packaging.

Using confectionery or snacks for holiday gifting to colleagues, associates or friends could also be a way of economizing. Small packages of nuts or chocolate can be used to decorate other gifts. They can also be used as vehicles for gift cards or be left as small thank-yous for people who have helped during the pandemic (delivery people, hospital workers).

Staycation treats replicate the travel experience

Hilton Hotels’ famous chocolate chip recipe
Hilton Hotels shared its popular recipe for chocolate chip cookies, which are a signature gift to guests at the company’s DoubleTree Hotel properties. Consumers can recreate the experience at home.

Focus on a single country
Cratejoy offers a monthly subscription service highlighting confectionery from around the world. Manufacturers can provide similar offers, providing snacks and foods from specific countries or regions.

Bring the Disney experience home
In April 2020, Disney Parks shared the recipe for its popular Mickey Mouse-shaped beignets, allowing consumers to recreate the theme park favorite at home.

Gathering, socially distanced from each other

Some holiday traditions, from caroling and tree lighting to New Year’s Eve countdowns, used to be celebrated in close quarters, with groups sharing the experiences. But in the current environment, caroling and countdowns are not going to be the same.

Adjusting to the new reality of a socially distanced holiday season requires imagination and bold responses. Opportunities for brands:

  • Instead of shared punch bowls and hot chocolate, consumers could provide socially distanced carolers and tree lighters with individually wrapped spicy chocolate bars or individually bottled spiced wine or cider.
  • Rather than passing around trays or boxes of individual chocolates or snacks, they could provide one- or two-piece boxes or pouches of premium truffles or nut clusters.

Consumers will be looking for other ways to provide small, single-person or single-family/bubble treats to friends and family. This is the time for manufacturers and retailers to step forward with “the next normal way” of celebrating, with pre-wrapped treats and single-serve beverages to replace buffet tables and punch bowls, and hygienically packaged, portable treats to enjoy when celebrating the holidays close to home.

Yes, Virginia (and all your friends), there is a Santa Claus

It is time to prepare for a similarly challenging Christmas-New Year season. Manufacturers and retailers should be promoting at-home events, fun gifts, and hygienic treats, all delivered to the door.

For a number of reasons, this is the time for food gifts to shine. They are more important than ever, not only to enliven pantries but also to relieve cooking-weary consumers who may not be venturing out very much. Gifts from meal services, as well as gift certificates for restaurant deliveries, will also help families whose incomes are diminished in these challenging times.

Mall Santas will be rare, but Santa’s mask-free and hygienic reindeer will team with UPS and FedEx to ensure that gifts are delivered. This may be a good opportunity to remind children that Santa and his sleigh have proved their reliability as a delivery system for centuries, and are not daunted by the COVID Grinch.

What we think

The 2020-21 holiday season will be challenging for consumers. It will also be challenging for manufacturers, who must pivot from established ways of providing holiday treats for big groups of people to increasing the availability of smaller, more intimate holiday fare. They can also help consumers recreate vacation experiences by bringing signature dishes home.

Marcia Mogelonsky
Marcia Mogelonsky

Marcia Mogelonsky, Ph. D. is the Director of Insight, Food & Drink, at Mintel. Her expertise focuses on consumer behavior across a range of categories.

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