Reddit data shows consumers are rethinking Thanksgiving meals and holiday spending

Recent Reddit activity reveals that users are rethinking consumerism in a big way as they head into the holidays. Traditional holiday meals are being replaced with innovative culinary creations, shoppers are considering quality over cost, and the provenance and labor practices behind every purchase matter more than ever.

Americans are more focused than ever on thoughtful consumerism – and it’s shaping everything from what they’ll have on the dinner table at Thanksgiving to how they’ll select gifts for friends and family, per exclusive new data from Reddit for The Drum.

The findings reveal sea changes are manifesting in three key ways: Redditors are rethinking holiday traditions; they are focused on long-term value over cost; and they are invested in the provenance and underlying ethics of what they consume.

Out with the old

For starters, increasingly users are tossing tradition to the wayside and engaging in conversations about nontraditional holiday meals – the platform has seen a 443% year-on-year increase in mentions of the term ‘nontraditional’ within the Food and Drink Interest Group. And compared to last year, there have been 96% more mentions of chicken rather than turkey heading into Thanksgiving. Users are sharing the unique recipes they’re making this year, ranging from lechón and rib eye to grape salad and curried meatballs.

“When we look at what Redditors are saying, and the community conversations we’re seeing, the biggest thing that we’re noticing is this birth of new traditions and a heightened sense of intentionality with all the purchases that they’re making,” says Rob Gaige, Reddit’s director of partner insights.

Gaige suggests that this shift is the product of a handful of coalescing factors. “A lot of it has to do with people reflecting back on ... the pandemic, the shrinking size of their get-togethers – or perhaps not having get-togethers – and certainly the different types of events they were having.”

It’s not just a stronger sense of intentionality driving people’s newly nontraditional approaches to holiday cooking. The change may also be tied to the influx of at-home cooking spurred on by the pandemic. Recent numbers from the marketing firm Acosta indicate that 65% of consumers cooked more at home during the pandemic and that 19% plan to cook even more at home post-Covid. And Reddit activity is still reflecting a growing interest in cooking; since last month, r/whatshouldicook has seen a 22% jump in views; meanwhile r/recipes views grew 26% during the same period. As people spend more time cooking, they’ve developed their own styles and tastes – and are reinventing what holiday meals look like along the way.

Other factors, such as supply chain shortages and a surge in adherence to plant-based diets (there’s been a 66% year-on-year increase in mentions of ‘plant-based’ diets in the Food and Drink Interest Group), are also shaping holiday meal planning. Reddit conversations are evidencing turkey shortages that have left grocers including Aldi with no birds to spare. In response, Redditors are getting creative this year.

And for brands, the market is ripe for innovation. “For marketers, this boils down to the idea of consumer reconsideration,” says director of Reddit’s KarmaLab Will Cady. “It’s rare that you have an opportunity to present new products and new services amongst all of the tradition of the holidays. If people are reconsidering even the turkey, that’s an opportunity for something to come in and take its place. That was something we would think [would be] impossible in 2019 and maybe in 2020. But here on the other side of all this change, consumers are open to new traditions, and brands can be a part of that.”

Leaning into luxury

In tandem with rising inflation rates and global supply chain disruptions has been a spike in consumers’ interest in splurging on products they deem high quality. In categories such as fashion and tech, they are expressing less interest in bargain brands – and more in luxury lines.

On Reddit, this trend is evidenced in changing consumer sentiment and growing engagement with subreddits about high-end brands. Year-on-year, the platform has seen a 21% lift in mentions of the terms ‘quality,’ ‘buy it for life’ and ‘worth it.’ Users are increasingly agreeing that quality matters more than cost.

“People are just waking up to the fact that rampant consumerism is not sustainable,” says Gaige. “It just doesn’t work. And everyone’s thinking long and hard about, ‘How can I buy vintage, upcycle things that I’ve seen before or buy something once and then not have to replace it quite so frequently?’ And when you combine that with a sense of inflation, the cost difference ends up being a little bit less than they would have otherwise seen. So they’re saying, ‘I might as well just go ahead and upgrade.’”

Some brands have spiked in popularity more than others; r/kithnyc, r/barbour, r/arcteryx and r/omegawatches have witnessed respective growth rates of 125%, 100%, 45% and 27% from October to November of this year.

And the impact of these conversations is substantial; 62% of users say that there are honest discussions on Reddit that help them evaluate which brands and products are best for them. Plus, Reddit plays an especially important role in shaping consumer behavior during the holidays – 41% of users visit Reddit to evaluate reviews on products or brands for gifts, compared with 33% who turn to Facebook and 28% who turn to Instagram for the same purpose. And more than eight in 10 users who conducted such research on Reddit made a purchase based on what they learned.

Consumerism with a conscience

In the same way that Reddit conversations are illustrating an increased focus on quality over cost, Reddit activity is also spelling out consumers’ growing attention to the provenance of the products they buy and the ethics of the brands behind them.

“Redditors are really great at trumpeting companies that are doing it right, and celebrating products and services that have a really positive history and a positive way of treating their workers,” says Gaige. “We’re seeing as a lot of people going to Reddit and saying, ‘Hey, I want to buy something, but I want to buy an ethical version of this product. Where should I look?’ And we’re seeing tons and tons of conversation around topics like that.”

Redditors have been championing brands that are not only providing products and services they love, but are also doing good for society at large. A Lego employee had the idea of assembling a Lego model of an MRI scanner to help healthcare professionals prepare children for treatment and make the experience more fun and less scary for them. The idea was a success, and Lego is now installing similar models in hospitals across the globe. A conversation about the activation on Reddit garnered some 2,700 upvotes. A recent post about Costco’s donations to a local food bank saw similar engagement.

At the same time, Redditors appear less interested in mass consumerism for the sake of it and more concerned about working conditions and labor practices. The platform has witnessed a 20% decrease in year-on-year mentions of Black Friday and Cyber Monday – some of which may be related to the massive growth of the r/antiwork movement, which encompasses conversations about labor rights, progressive work policies and the pitfalls of capitalism. Views of the subreddit have grown 872% year-on-year and the subscriber count has increased 461%. A recent thread about boycotting Black Friday in support of underpaid hospitality and retail workers attracted 1,400 comments and 14,000 upvotes.

For brands, this represents a critical juncture. “At a minimum, it’s an invitation to rethink the creative for the storytelling behind your brand, your product or your service,” Cady says. “Think about how the culture has shifted. There is this mindfulness of the supply chain. There is this mindfulness of how these items end up on the table or under the tree.”

Of course, Redditors – like all consumers – can spot inauthenticity from a mile away. The growing demand for ethical labor and production is not a welcome opportunity for a brand to polish their image while failing to clean up behind closed doors, argues Gaige. “The worst thing a brand can do is to project an air of ‘I’ve figured it all out,’ because consumers don’t believe anyone’s really figured it all out,” he says. “A lot of what we see is celebration of the brands that are making steps, but more celebration for the ones that are founded on those principles from the get-go, [that have built] it into their core ... as opposed to just constantly attaching [their brand] to something and then trying to get credit for it. They get called out for that hypocrisy.”

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