Americans Hungry To Have Holiday On A Shoestring

turkeyAs American cooks start sharpening their carving knives, food marketers are wondering just how influenced this year's Thanksgiving celebrations will be by economic worries, rising costs, and the growing desire to cozy up with loved ones.

Wal-Mart stores, for example, is betting that shoppers want to trim the fat. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer, which has already vowed to lower the cost of the holidays week by week through its Operation Mainstreet marketing program, is hyping the ingredients for a traditional dinner for eight--including wine--for under $35. (That's a little less than average, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, which says the traditional meal will cost $44.61 for 10 people--up $2.35 from last year.)

And at the other end of the price spectrum, even Whole Foods Markets is making price an issue, touting something called "Shrimpsgiving"-- encouraging shoppers to serve shrimp at $8.99 a pound, either along with or in lieu of turkey. "Shrimpsgiving celebrates the little-known fact that the Pilgrims and Native Americans enjoyed seafood along with their turkey at the first Thanksgiving meal," the company says in its release.



Replacing turkey will be an uphill battle. The National Turkey Federation estimates that nearly 88% of Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving, accounting for about 46 million turkeys, with an average weight of 15 pounds. (Free turkeys--long a favorite strategy of everyone from employers to casinos to supermarkets--seem to be popping up with greater frequency this year.)

The restaurant industry, meanwhile, has its fingers crossed that the ongoing slump in business won't spill over into Thanksgiving sales. Typically, the National Restaurant Association says about 11% of Americans dine out on the holiday. And 53% use some form of restaurant-prepared takeout items, from pre-baked turkeys to professionally made pies.

Some high-end restaurants--Plimouth Plantation, for example, a restoration-village in Plymouth, Mass.--are already fully booked. But even lower-end chains stay busy: Boston Market is open on Thanksgiving, and offers a wide assortment of prepared banquets-to-go. And a growing number of supermarkets are offering complete or partial takeout meals.

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