Thanksgiving Data [2022]: 18 Unexpected Statistics About Turkey Day

Thanksgiving is arguably the biggest food holiday of the year. But did you know these statistics about how we actually celebrate on turkey day, and why?
Last updated Aug. 25, 2022 | By Kerry Murray | Edited By Becca Borawski Jenkins
Person carving the Thanksgiving turkey

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Things are shaping up to be unpredictable as the country settles into a second Thanksgiving holiday in the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Prices are up, and there is uncertainty as to what we will find when we go grocery shopping for one of the biggest food holidays on the calendar.

Thanksgiving takes place on the fourth Thursday of November, which lands on November 25 this year. The holiday includes the single busiest travel day and the two most intense shopping days of the year. Fortunately, Thanksgiving is all about the comfort of tradition, and there is safety in numbers amid all the holiday hubbub.

Key takeaways:

  • 50% of all whole bird turkeys sold in the U.S. are consumed in a single day due to Thanksgiving.
  • Because of a mistake involving 260 tons of frozen turkeys, TV dinners were created in 1953, kickstarting the $1.2 billion frozen dinner market.
  • 58.63% of Thanksgiving travel survey respondents are planning to stay close to home for the holidays.
  • Reservations for short-term rentals such as Airbnb and Vrbo for holiday travel 2021 are up 377% over 2020 and 91% over 2019.
  • 186.4 million U.S. consumers shopped in-store or online for the weekend of Black Friday 2020, more than half of the U.S. population of 329.5 million people.
In this article

Thanksgiving food statistics

Thanksgiving is the food holiday, and many items on the menu, though supposedly loved by those who gather, are served in the U.S. only this one day each year. The consumption of these items — whole turkeys, stuffing, green bean casserole, and canned cranberry sauce — show just how closely tied to the national holiday these specific foods have become.

Read on to learn some interesting food facts related to Thanksgiving.

1. 40 million whole turkeys are eaten in the U.S. at Thanksgiving.

This represents a full 50% of all whole turkeys sold in the U.S. for the year, with most of the rest purchased for Christmas meals. One out of every three whole turkeys purchased at Thanksgiving is sold by Butterball, the North Carolina turkey producer that does not actually “butter” any of its turkeys.

The USDA anticipates a 1.5% drop in the number of whole birds sold in 2021. Inventories of frozen turkeys in August 2021 were down 24% from non-pandemic year average volumes and 19% lower than August 2020. Lower supply has raised the price of frozen whole turkeys by 13%.

Additionally, poultry processing plants are experiencing major labor shortages, affecting the availability of fresh whole turkeys and specialty items such as turkey breasts, the price of which has risen 73% since April 2021. It will be interesting to see what this year’s Thanksgiving data reveals about turkey numbers and volume after the holiday.

(Sources: The Economist, University of Arkansas, USDA)

2. $96 million is spent on stuffing at Thanksgiving each year.

Stuffing is almost exclusively consumed on the day of Thanksgiving and rarely seen on menus beyond the holiday season. Kraft sells 40 million boxes of Stove Top Stuffing Mix each October through December. Pretty good for what many think of as simply “seasoned bread crumbs.”

Contrast stuffing sales with that of macaroni and cheese. Even though macaroni and cheese is also a turkey day staple for many families, especially those in the South, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is happily served throughout the year to the tune of 1 million boxes per day.

And since we’re on a carbohydrate roll, if you’re wondering how many dinner rolls are eaten on Thanksgiving, stats indicate 32.2 million dinner rolls are purchased.

(Sources: National Grocers Association, Kraft Heinz Company)

3. 40% of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup sales occur around Thanksgiving.

Almost all of this 40% is designated for green bean casseroles served by over 20 million American households.

In 1955, Dorcas Reilly was tasked with creating a simple recipe to be picked up by newspapers that would make it easy and quick for home cooks to assemble the dish with ingredients on hand — specifically Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup and canned green beans.

The dish was initially intended to be an everyday meal, yet took off as a Thanksgiving tradition once Campbell's put the recipe on the soup can label. The recipe is viewed online 4 million times each Thanksgiving.

(Source: Smithsonian Magazine)

4. 80 million pounds of cranberries are purchased at Thanksgiving.

This represents 20% of all cranberries sold in the U.S. each year. These 40 tons of cranberries are in canned jellied form, with 5 million gallons of cranberry sauce purchased for Thanksgiving tables. The rest of the year, cranberries are primarily consumed in the U.S. as processed juice.

The cranberry harvest lasts only six weeks, and in an effort to benefit from year-round sales, Marcus Urann first canned jellied cranberry sauce in 1912. Urann went on to co-found the Ocean Spray cranberry growers cooperative, the world’s largest grower of cranberries.

Ocean Spray sells 80% of its jellied cranberry sauce the week of Thanksgiving and produces 70 million cans each year.

(Sources: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Vox)

Other key Thanksgiving data and food statistics

5. Tofurky’s holiday “roast” experienced a 22% increase in sales during Thanksgiving 2020.

Tofurky — a vegan blend of tofu and wheat with wild rice stuffing that is the punchline to many a meat-eater’s jokes — first came to market in 1995. It sold its 6 millionth roast as shoppers prepared for Thanksgiving 2020. Tofurky’s vegan ham also experienced a 600% year-over-year sales increase for Easter 2020.

The demand for plant-based meats grew 45% in 2020 and it is now a $1.4 billion market. Location, location, location is part of the reason refrigerated (as opposed to frozen) plant-based meat sales grew 75% in 2020. Products such as Impossible Burgers are now being shelved next to conventional meat products instead of random locations in the produce section. 18% of U.S. households now purchase plant-based meat, up from 14% in 2019.

(Sources: Forbes, VegNews, Plant Based Food Association)

6. Average cost of Thanksgiving dinner is expected to rise 5% this year and hit record highs.

According to the Farm Bureau survey, the average cost for a Thanksgiving 2020 dinner was $46.90. A 5% increase over 2020 would have this year’s average dinner cost $49.25.

The increase this year is largely due to price increases at every level of food production, from the feed for turkeys (corn feed has doubled in price) to the shortage of truckers to drive foodstuffs to market. As of September, the Consumer Price Index for food is up 4.6% from the previous year. Prices for meat, poultry, fish, and eggs are up 10.5%

Even the aluminum pan to roast the turkey costs more as aluminum prices are at a 10-year high, up 80% from May 2020. The steel needed to make the can for the jellied cranberry sauce costs 200% more than it did in 2020.

According to our own FinanceBuzz Thanksgiving survey, nearly two-thirds of Americans (63%) expect rising food costs to impact their celebration this year. And almost one in four people (24%) said they may need to cut back on food at Thanksgiving due to the rising costs.

(Sources: New York Times, American Farm Bureau Federation, FinanceBuzz)

7. Don’t forget the pie! 35% of Americans prefer pumpkin pie as their favorite for finishing off a Thanksgiving meal.

That’s according to a 2020 YouGovAmerica survey. What other flavors do Americans love? 16% choose pecan pie, 11% apple pie, 10% sweet potato pie, 6% chocolate pie, 4% cherry pie.

Our own FinanceBuzz survey found similar results: Nearly 45% of people chose pumpkin as the most essential pie, while apple pie beat out sweet potato for second place.

FiveThirtyEight did a similar survey in 2015 and found that while pumpkin was the preferred pie across the U.S. for Thanksgiving, preferences varied from region to region for second place. Apple pie was the preferred second choice in New England and the Mid-Atlantic. Pecan pie and sweet potato pie were the runners-up in the South. Cherry pie took the secondary honors in the Midwest and West.

(Sources: YouGovAmerica, FinanceBuzz, FiveThirtyEight)

8. Of those on pie duty, 37% claim to make their Thanksgiving pies completely from scratch.

Another third of bakers claim homemade status for their pies, though they may use store-bought shortcuts such as premade crusts or pie filling. Then there is the 26% who buy their pies from the store and don’t even try to pass them off as homemade.

Regionally, Instacart found those baking pies from scratch were clustered in the Northeast and Midwest, with Vermont and Maine leading the ranks of those buying the most pie ingredients versus the national average with ratios of 42% and 38%, respectively.

The West is the most likely to buy premade pies. Hawaii is the most likely to buy premade pies versus the national average with a ratio of 32%.

(Sources: YouGovAmerica, Instacart)

9. In 1953, an employee at Swanson made a colossal error, and over-ordered turkey for Thanksgiving to the tune of 260 tons of frozen birds that were left sitting in 10 refrigerated railroad cars.

Gerry Thomas, one of the few people who could be inspired by airplane food, had the bright idea to acquire 5,000 aluminum trays and create a simple meal of turkey, dressing, gravy, peas, and sweet potatoes, with individual pats of butter. An assembly line of women with ice cream scoops was set up, and the TV dinner was born.

The first TV dinner cost 98 cents, and in 1954, 10 million turkey dinners were sold.

(Source: Smithsonian Magazine)

Thanksgiving travel statistics

10. 58.63% of travel survey respondents are planning to stay close to home for the holidays.

Of those traveling, 37.14% choose to travel by car, while 25.71% hope to find the friendly skies once again by traveling by air. 17.14% would prefer to be on a cruise. 11.43% prefer to travel by bus and 8.57% to travel by train.

Air travel is rebounding from 2020, yet car travel is still preferred, most likely because travelers can maintain social distance, save money (depending on the length of trip and number of people in the vehicle), and bring along the pet they adopted during the pandemic.

Speaking of pandemic pets, Google searches for “pet friendly hotels” are up 42.93% from 2019. Google searches for “pet friendly motels” are up 36.25% for 2020.

(Source: Zeta)

11. Demand for short-term rentals for November and December 2021 is up 377% over 2020 and 91% over 2019.

Short-term rentals are in demand by families looking for places to be all together or for those who are still working remotely and need a change of scenery. The average short-term rental rate for Thanksgiving is $415 per night, 19% higher than 2020.

Outdoor travel destinations are popular, with beach and ski destinations receiving the most interest. Vrbo, a vacation rental company, reports that demand for ski destinations is up 40% over 2019 and 31% over 2020.

(Sources: Guesty, New York Times)

12. The best day for Thanksgiving air travel is Monday, November 22nd, when only 12% of holiday flyers are headed to the airport.

Thanksgiving Day (November 25th) is your second best day for air travel, with only 14% of holiday bookings. If you leave early, you can typically be at your destination by the time everyone sits down for dinner.

45% of airline passengers will be attempting to fly on Wednesday, November 24th, which is the busiest travel day of the entire year, not just during the time leading up to this particular federal holiday. Returning on the weekend is just as hectic, with Saturday, November 27 and Sunday, November 28 accounting for 31% and 57% of air passengers respectively.

(Source: SmarterTravel)

13. Thanksgiving air travel is expected to be around 75% of 2019 levels but twice that of 2020.

Per the Thanksgiving data supplied by the travel company Hopper, 1.9 million travelers will pass through airports per day in 2021 versus 2.5 million per day in 2019 and 900,000 per day in 2020.

For those travelers staying within the U.S. mainland, the most booked domestic destinations for Thanksgiving 2021 are Orlando, FL; Dallas, TX; and Phoenix, AZ.

For travelers flying outside the contiguous United States, the most booked destinations are Cancun, Mexico; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Mexico City, Mexico.

(Source: Hopper)

Thanksgiving and Black Friday

14. Consumer behavior on Black Friday has shifted, yet 32% of consumers say they will definitely attend in-store Black Friday sales in 2021.

Black Friday is part of the five-day shopping event from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday that has historically been some of the busiest shopping days of the year. Yet 49% of consumers are starting their holiday shopping before Halloween.

According to our own FinanceBuzz survey, 60% of shoppers say they'll "definitely" or "probably" start their holiday shopping earlier than normal this year because of possible supply chain disruptions.

Retailers are now more likely to be closed on Thanksgiving Day than trying to give shoppers an in-store jump on Black Friday. Walmart, Target, and Best Buy have all announced they will close for Thanksgiving 2021. The Christmas shopping season and associated purchasing behavior is shifting more and more online, and retailers are spreading their offers across the holiday season.

(Sources: Statista, FinanceBuzz, National Retail Federation)

15. 186.4 million U.S. consumers shopped in-store or online from Thanksgiving Day, through Black Friday to Cyber Monday in 2020, down slightly from 2019, but 12.4% higher than 2018.

For Black Friday 2020, with many consumers staying home due to pandemic concerns, shoppers spent $9 billion online, a 21.6% year-over-year increase. Consumers then dropped $10.8 billion on Cyber Monday 2020, up 15.1% from 2019. These are the two largest online shopping days in U.S. history.

(Source: NBC News)

Thanksgiving vs. Christmas statistics

16. Americans put up their Christmas tree an average of 4.5 weeks before Christmas.

For 2021, Treetopia gathered data of people who put their Christmas tree up before Thanksgiving and those who would insist on waiting until closer to Christmas Day. The timing of tree arrival and decorating does vary by state.

Rhode Island and South Carolina folks put up their trees an average of 6.6 weeks before Christmas, which would be about November 10. Residents of Oregon, Connecticut, and Florida wait until 3.3 weeks before Christmas.

Americans wait an average of 2.9 weeks after Christmas to take down their Christmas tree. Illinois residents wait the longest at 4.2 weeks to take down their tree, while those in North Carolina average 2.1 weeks to have the tree down and decorations packed away.

(Source: Treetopia)

17. 22% of respondents feel judged when they put their Christmas tree up earlier than the norm.

And these Christmas enthusiasts are potentially not wrong about feeling judged, as survey respondents admitted to holding strong opinions about when people put up and take down their Christmas tree. Notably, 25% of respondents admit to judging others when they take their tree down later than the norm.

Christmas decorating can get emotional and taken a bit too seriously as 21% of American men admit to becoming competitive with their neighbors when it comes to Christmas decorations.

(Source: Treetopia)

18. #ThanksgivingTree is trending on Instagram for 2021, with over 4000 posts using the hashtag.

Thanksgiving trees are an excellent excuse to break out your Christmas tree from storage a few months early and decorate it with fall colors and motifs. Tree decorations range from a minimalist look of simple lights and fall-colored ribbons to trees dripping with sunflowers or pumpkins or faux fall foliage. This outside-the-Christmas-tree-box idea is a great way to join the growing group of people who put their Christmas tree up before Thanksgiving.

(Source: Better Homes & Gardens)

How to save money this Thanksgiving season

Rising food costs are poised to make things more expensive this year, and you might also be planning to put down some serious money on Black Friday. So here are some tips on how to keep a little extra cash in your wallet during this holiday day:

  • Optimize your grocery shopping. There are plenty of ways to spend less on groceries, from clipping coupons to using rewards apps to earning cash back by using one of the best credit cards for groceries.
  • Earn rewards when you gas up. Many people travel across the country to be with family and friends during the holiday. Anyone planning a long drive should consider using one of the best gas credit cards so they can earn rewards for every fill up along the way.
  • Consider taking on a bigger picture approach to how to manage your money. If we only consider each buying opportunity, then it can be easy to overspend. But if you take some time to look at all your expenses and do some budgeting, then you can get smarter at saying yes or no to small purchases.

Bottom line

The modern manifestation of Thanksgiving is a busy one, with turkey day being the major food, travel, and shopping holiday of the year. But don’t forget to take a moment apart from the food and football games to find the gratitude in the your Thanksgiving celebrations. And definitely remember to defrost that turkey.

Sources

1. The Economist - Socially Distanced Thanksgiving Weakens Appetite for Big Turkeys
2. University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture, Research and Extension - Poultry Production Bottlenecks May Mean Another Tough Year for Holiday Turkey Lovers
3. USDA Economic Research Service - Frozen Turkey Inventories 24 Percent Below 3-Year Average as Consumers Gobble up Supplies
4. National Grocers Association - Thanksgiving “Buy” the Numbers
5. Kraft Heinz Company - Kraft Heinz Creates Stuffle – A New Way to Serve up Your Thanksgiving Leftovers
6. Smithsonian Magazine - The Woman Who Invented the Green Bean Casserole
7. Agricultural Marketing Resource Center - Cranberries
8. Vox - Canned Cranberry Sauce, Explained
9. Forbes - Tofurky Is Having a Huge Year. Killing the Thanksgiving Punchline Won’t Be as Easy.
10. VegNews - Tofurky Reports 22-Percent Spike in Orders for Vegan Roasts
11. Plant Based Food Association - 2020 Retail Sales Data Announcement
12. New York Times - This Year’s Thanksgiving Feast Will Wallop the Wallet
13. American Farm Bureau Federation - Farm Bureau Survey: Thanksgiving Dinner Cost Down 4%
14. FinanceBuzz - [Survey] 63% of Americans Expect Rising Food Costs to Impact Thanksgiving Dinner
15. YouGov America - Best Thanksgiving Pie Poll
16. FiveThirtyEight - Here’s What Your Part Of America Eats On Thanksgiving
17. Instacart - Third Annual Turkey Day Exposé: Breaking Down This Year’s Big Meal
18. Smithsonian Magazine - How 260 Tons of Thanksgiving Leftovers Gave Birth to an Industry
19. Zeta - Key Trends for 2021 Holiday Travel
20. Guesty - Top Highlights From Our Latest Industry Report: The State of Short-Term Rentals: USA 2021 Holiday Edition
21. New York Times - As U.S. Reopening Approaches, Travelers Take Their Marks
22. SmarterTravel - The 12 Best and Worst Days to Travel This Holiday Season
23. Hopper - 2021 Holiday Travel Guide Report
24. Statista - Intention of U.S. Consumers to Shop In-store for Black Friday Sales 2021
25. FinanceBuzz - Supply Chain Disruptions Dominate Holiday Shopping Worries [Survey 2021]
26. National Retail Federation - Holiday Spending Reflects Continued Consumer Demand
27. NBC News - The Evolution of Black Friday Shopping — and What 2021 May Bring
28. Treetopia - How Early Does the Average American Put Up Their Christmas Tree? A Survey
29. Better Homes & Gardens - These Thanksgiving Trees Will Make You Want to Get Your Tree Up Now