How to Adapt Holiday Catering & Meal Solutions to Attract Shoppers

Dec 9, 2020

Since March, COVID-19 has driven significant market share from restaurants to grocery stores as consumers isolate and stay at home. And while Thanksgiving sales were generally good, with early Nielsen reports showing that grocery moved into the top growth category the week of Thanksgiving, initial reports indicate that sales weren't as strong as many had hoped. As a surge in COVID cases led to smaller gatherings, consumers bought fewer groceries and sought more holiday catering from restaurants.

More of the same is expected for Christmas due to those rapidly rising COVID cases. According to IRI, one in three shoppers expects to spend less on groceries for the December holidays, primarily due to hosting fewer or no guests this year or cutting back to save money. Online retailers are the only channel where shoppers expect to spend more than last year in terms of overall holiday spending. Add to that the restaurant push to tempt shoppers with holiday catering offers, and it's clear that retailers must put their best food and offers forward to capture those holiday sales. 

“Shoppers are relying on the grocery industry in ways they never have in the past," says IGA CEO John Ross. "We are truly essential to every American's lives right now, as one of the only safe places to provide food for their families, and part of our responsibility is to deliver delicious but efficient recipes and meal solutions." 

The good news is that independent grocers are uniquely positioned to scale their catering services while giving shoppers quality, customizable meal solutions for the holidays from a store they trust. "In this dark time, it's still important to celebrate the holidays," Ross says. "But without the kids and grandkids coming over, older shoppers may not celebrate at all," he elaborates. "Retailers who are eCommerce-enabled can encourage these shoppers to buy a nice meal for their families—be it two people or six—and have it delivered or picked up curbside."

Whether your shoppers want a fully catered meal or need to shop for ingredients for their favorite holiday recipes, see how your store can adapt your holiday catering and offer meal solutions to meet your shoppers' holiday needs this month.

Adapt Your Holiday Catering

Scale down your regular catering offerings

There's no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to holiday catering this year. Traditional holiday meals—turkey or ham, a few comfort food sides, and dessert—can be sold as individual plates or family-style dishes to be scooped and served at the table. And with 74 percent of shoppers saying they'll be having a smaller holiday gathering than usual this year, they'll need help scaling their traditional holiday feasts. Enter their local IGA store, which can provide the comfort foods shoppers love and crave without a messy kitchen and too many leftovers. 

For Thanksgiving, Ptacek’s IGA in Prescott, Wisconsin made the traditional turkey, stuffing, cranberries, green beans, and gravy meals, selling them in individual, sectioned plates. “We wanted to encourage small gatherings this year, so we created individually-packed meals that allowed people to order how much they needed,” Pat Ptacek says, adding that this individual approach was successful for the IGA store and they will be expanding on it for Christmas.


Granite Falls IGA in Granite Falls, Washington offered meal deals for various-sized parties for Thanksgiving, from dinner for four to a larger meal serving 8-10 people. Their shoppers could order online for curbside pick-up, with a meal of turkey and gravy with three sides, rolls, and pumpkin pie.


Provide local, fresh differentiators 

Independents are well-positioned to stand out as purveyors of local, fresh foods prepared by members of the shoppers’ community, which is especially important to shoppers during the pandemic, with 53 percent saying they are more likely to buy from a local retailer in a May survey from ZypMedia, a programmatic TV advertising platform. 

"Local businesses are the engine of our economy and it's reassuring to see that Americans aren't abandoning them during these uncertain times," says Aman Sareen, CEO of ZypMedia. "How businesses market to their customers is more critical than ever as consumers believe in remaining loyal to their local businesses, while at the same time being conscious of their current economic and social distancing situations."

Give shoppers what they want (a local retailer) and what they need (holiday catering) while differentiating yourself from restaurants offering to-go catering for the holidays by advertising your stand-out offerings. Brookshire Brothers, an employee-owned group of over 100 grocery stores and pharmacies in Texas, has a smoked in-house barbecue program that just launched. In a recent National Grocers Association webinar, Corry Lankford, their director of advertising and eCommerce, said the recent COVID-related restaurant closures coupled with the holidays have made their high quality barbecue top-of-mind for shoppers. 

“As these barbecue places started to close down due to fear of COVID or just due to local restrictions, we were really able to take advantage of that and get it out in front of people, whether that was curbside, or whether it was straight to their door," he says. "I really think that will not only cement that in the mind of the consumer base now but long beyond whenever we go back to whatever the new normal looks like, because I think it will still be that destination for these customers.”

Don't forget your customer-favorite store recipes in the deli, too, whether it's a famous local stew or mashed potatoes with just the right amount of salted butter. Let your shoppers know that you're serving up their favorites for the holiday so they don't have to cook but can still put the traditional foods on the table. 

Allow Online Ordering for Bigger Baskets, Customization, and Planning Ahead

No-fuss online ordering makes it easy for shoppers to place their holiday catering orders while helping retailers reap the rewards of a bigger basket. Thomas Horne, senior eCommerce manager for Associated Food Stores, says that once shoppers are online and placing their catering order, they're more likely to add extra items. "Identify complementary products to sell alongside your catering offering. If someone is ordering a dozen cupcakes, suggest napkins, plates, cutlery, and beverages to go along with them," he says. Use the features in your eCommerce program to suggest frequently-paired items, like adding cream cheese if a shopper puts bagels in their cart, to further grow the basket.

Online ordering also makes it easy for shoppers to customize their catering orders, modifying the menu to their tastes and choosing how much food they need. For example, a retailer using IGA's eCommerce program through Freshop can allow shoppers to select their lasagna filling via a drop-down menu, making it easy to customize each order. 

Freshop's eCommerce customizable feature

Ptacek’s is planning use their Freshop-powered website to offer shoppers more customized options for Christmas. "We can let them choose their meat and sides," Ptacek says, noting the website provides the option for shoppers to customize online. "They can tweak the menu so they get ham instead of turkey, and we'll have more sides for them to choose from."

And with the technology powering his eCommerce site, Ptacek says shoppers can select their pickup time slot and pay in advance online, offering peace of mind to him and his employees. "We're not chasing tail trying to find out who never came to pick up their order; there's no wasted food," he says. Not only does the advanced planning benefit the retailer, but shoppers, too. They know exactly when their food will be ready and don't have to waste time waiting for their order or standing in line to pay, which is one less thing on their proverbial plate during the holidays. 

Offer Meal Solutions

While catering offers shoppers the option to let someone else do the cooking this season, some will still want to cook, but will be serving smaller batches. Retailers can become shoppers' number one resource and earn their dollars and loyalty by offering classic recipes that are easy to scale down for those smaller gatherings and feature local or private label ingredients, which can save shoppers money.

IGA retailers can use the Family Meals Made Easy! program, which is designed to provide shoppers with mealtime solutions that are quick, easy, and nutritious. Visit the Shopper Solutions or Recipes pages on for cooking tutorials, recipes, and more that you can share with shoppers with the click of a button. Each recipe features an invitation for shoppers to sign up for the IGA Recipe Club newsletter. This subscription ensures your shoppers receive the most recent recipes and cooking tips in their inboxes, ultimately driving traffic back to your store. Many of the recipes feature IGA Exclusive Brand ingredients, and the program makes it easy to design an end cap around the recipes, which will benefit in-store shoppers looking for holiday recipes ideas. 

Green Bean Casserole DisplayIGA's Family Meals Made Easy! end cap display features a recipe and ingredients for the popular green bean casserole.
Advertise Your Holiday Solutions

Now that you know how to adapt your catering and meal solutions for shoppers’ holiday needs, make sure they know about your offerings! Ptacek says they included bag stuffers advertising their Thanksgiving catering in their curbside pickup orders, reaching existing shoppers and encouraging them to use their trusted grocer for their holiday plans.

They also boosted Facebook posts promoting the holiday catering, spending a small amount to reach more people and getting lots of feedback in the process. “We heard back from a lot of people, saying it was a great idea and that they were excited to order,” Ptacek says. 

And don't forget that the recipes from the Family Meals Made Easy! program are featured in the National Digital Ad, so be sure to complement those recipes with your catering offers in the digital circular. 

While this holiday season will look different than in years' past, local retailers can use these strategies to assure shoppers that they are here to support their families no matter how small the table is this year. Whether IGA does the cooking or just supplies a few recipes, retailers can help their communities celebrate all the same. 

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