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Supermarket "marketing" of Thankgiving items

I was in a grocery store for the first time in what seemed like a very long time this past weekend and walked by a display that seemingly had Thanksgiving, all laid out for you.

Boxes of stove top stuffing
Instant Mashed Potatoes
Canned Yams, corn, cranberry and green beans as well as the ubiquitous cream of mushroom soup and French's fried onions for that casserole-thing

Libby's even makes canned Pumpkin PIE FILLING...

My Step mother is a horrible cook and we used to be subjected to her stuffing and each year it was a miracle that nobody went to the hospital from food poisoning, I'd have welcomed Stove Top back in those days, so I guess I get some pre-packaged convienience for T-Day but they had everything so lined up there it made me wonder:

Do you think that many people really eat like that for Thanksgiving, or is it more of a marketing "one stop shop" thing?

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  1. It absolutely is marketing but I think many, many people eat that way for Thanksgiving. If not that many of them purchase the prepackaged deals from the grocery stores. Last year I was in our local Kroger the day before Thanksgiving and could not believe the number of Thanksgivings in a box they were preparing that had been purchased.

    3 Replies
    1. re: swamp

      You would be amazed how many people buy the pre-made turkey meals. Many moons ago my husband was a manager at Boston Market and Thanksgiving was their busiest day of the year. It was insane. I even remember traveling around town to various grocery stores looking for pumpkin pies because inevitably, corporate never planned for enough pumpkin pies to be on hand at each store and the stores *always* got shortchanged. It was ridiculous and I am so glad we don't have to deal with that anymore. Made the holiday very unpleasant.

      1. re: Jen76

        Several years ago our kitchen was in the middle of a renovation over Easter weekend. I wasn't even sure if Boston Market was going to be open that day but popped over to get something for dinner for the two of us. Not only was it packed but to the chagrin of the woman in front me had run out of pre-fab ham dinners. Horrors, her dinner guests were coming in only a few hours. But not to worry -- someone else had failed to pick up their ham dinner that morning and she could have that one!! So not only was she serving her holiday guests fast food takeout, she was serving them LEFTOVER fast food takeout. Generations of my Southern-born aunts and grandmothers would have arisen from their graves and haunted my dreams if I'd gone that route.

        1. re: mandycat

          In Boston Market's defense, it's not leftover like when you have extras from a meal at home that you keep for another day. Someone just didn't pick it up. It's the same "quality" food she'd have gotten if she had ordered it herself. The ham isn't really any different than what you'd get at the grocery store. You still have to heat it. At one time, their hams were pretty good. Then they switched to a spiral sliced which wasn't nearly as tasty and I found dry. They have always had the bone, though. They aren't pressed and formed hams.

          But, the turkeys...ewww...pre-roasted and heated like a ham. Yuk! A lot of people would come in to get their holiday orders not realizing they still had to "cook" by heating everything. It was all packed cold.

    2. Many folks work at jobs with no flexibility, and Thanksgiving dinner is a huge chore when you're short on time. When you're the host, you're expected to prepare dinner, yes, but also set a nice table and have a clean house, all of which take time and lots of it. For those of us who are able to make the time, a homemade meal from scratch is the only way to go. But if I didn't have job flexibility, where I can almost always take half-days the week before Thanksgiving, or even have Wednesday off, I would probably resort to some or many of those shortcuts and premade food. When you're tired, Thanksgiving can be just one more thing to exhaust you even further.

      OTOH, I do think to some extent it is just "clever" marketing to the masses.

      5 Replies
      1. re: lisavf

        I know you’ve struck a chord with me on the time limitations, I’ve learned from my Mom’s mistakes that Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be ‘fancy’ or gourmet in order to be really good, though.

        Classic Example of my Mom for a holiday meal - do nothing week of then go shopping the night before and wake up at 5AM to clean then she would be scrambling at the last minute making individual cranberry/red wine molds and three different kinds of home made breads to have with dinner… all very nice in theory but her execution was usually off on at least one item and she never seemed to enjoy the meal with the rest of us.

        So I’ve learned to just do stuff after work like cleaning and decorating and whatever shopping and cooking ahead I can do...

        Fresh ingredients simply prepared will always taste better to me than boxed stuff (aforementioned stuffing excluded, of course)

        I think what I'm trying to say is I'd rather eat fresh green beans and mashed potatoes off the 'regular dishes' with shoes in the middle of the living room than instant mashed and canned casserole on the fancy turkey plates with the bookshelves dusted

        1. re: cgarner

          "I think what I'm trying to say is I'd rather eat fresh green beans and mashed potatoes off the 'regular dishes' with shoes in the middle of the living room than instant mashed and canned casserole on the fancy turkey plates with the bookshelves dusted"

          Me, too!

          1. re: lisavf

            "I think what I'm trying to say is I'd rather eat fresh green beans and mashed potatoes off the 'regular dishes' with shoes in the middle of the living room than instant mashed and canned casserole on the fancy turkey plates with the bookshelves dusted"

            hear, hear!

            my MIL is not a great cook, so we get lots of "prefab" food when we go for holidays at their house. This year FIL said that it was too stressful for her - so I got to do Thanksgiving! No pre-made stuff for me (except crescent rolls and cran sauce)! YUM!

          2. re: cgarner

            yes, people are short on time, but the reality is that the basic turkey dinner is fairly easy to cook, and other than the time roasting the turkey not all that time consuming. I do compromise a bit when I'm cooking: I avoid fancy sides (I prefer plain steamed veggies and baked yams anyway, and mashed potatoes just AREN'T that hard or time consuming!). My pre-meal nibbles are store bought fancy things (marinated green beans, olives, that kind of thing) And I have confessed here before that I have a secret store-bought pie crust option (although the rest of the pie is home-made). Speaking of pies, the one thing I don't get is the need to use pumpkin pie mix....canned pumpkin sure, but mixing it with the evaporated milk, sugar, eggs and spices takes all of what, two minutes? BTW, I bought generic pumpkin for my pies this year, and then when I got home I realized that the traditional recipe wasn't on the back. No problem; that one I remember by heart. Again, its easy!

            I like the solution below of narrowing the number of side dishes. I went to a friend's for Tday this year, and I was assigned pre-dinner munchies (which were all store bought; I worked until 5 last night!) and pies. I baked the pies this morning. But when I got there I was amazed at the amount of food she had prepared...and she works as hard as I do! There were four of us and there were about six side dishes: mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, baked carrots, green beans with almonds, salad, and stuffing. Oh, and home-made rolls. Let's not forget the 20 pound turkey! She admitted that her husband loves leftovers, and the main purpose of the meal was so that there would be leftovers....lol! The good news is that she gave me turkey to take home, so there will be turkey sandwiches tomorrow!! yeah!!!

          3. re: lisavf

            Such good points. Great points actually. I think kaimukiman is right also that many people don't have the space/cooking capacity to 'do it all' in one day (or even two days), so they do a combination of pre-prepared and from scratch.

            My solution has been to narrow the number of dishes I serve, and to focus on doing that smaller number of dishes well.

          4. Years ago, when I worked at a Stop and Shop, they would give a "Thanksgiving in a box" when you had spent X amount of dollars in a certain amount of weeks. Management had us encourage the customers to participate, even if they didn't want or need a pre-packaged Thanksgiving dinner. We took all the earned "unwanted" dinners and donated them to a local food pantry.

            1 Reply
            1. re: MrsT

              Our local chains have similar programs... Eventually they added an option to have the "earned" dinner sent directly to the food bank.

            2. Everyone that I know who uses those items in the course of an ordinary day actually refrains from it on Thanksgiving, preferring to make things from scratch. Except for the green beans and mushroom soup. *That* is a tradition even among some chowhounders.

              I tried to make GBC from scratch one year, and I was thoroughly reprimanded for the lack of canned green beans by the man I love. I tried to compromise, and offered frozen green beans and homemade cream of mushroom, but he was pretty obstinate. I give way on it.

              I think it's mainly a marketing thing, to get us thinking about the day, and starting that grocery list. Those end-caps usually have prominent sale signs on them, and maybe the hope is that there will be a not-so-subtle connection between shopping for Thanksgiving and getting a bargain.

              1 Reply
              1. re: onceadaylily

                When I first met my now husband, his "kids" nearly had meltdown because I insisted on making stuffing, cranberry sauce and potatoes au gratin from scratch... I acquiesced on the green bean casserole, at least they used frozen green beans for that dish.

                I admittedly buy pies for T-Day. Oven space is limited and I do as much as I can in advance, but there are some wonderful bakeries in my neck of the woods, so pumpkin, apple and cocounut custard pies are all bought.

              2. Growing up, my family's Thanksgiving dinner looked like that. Stove top stuffing, instant mashed potatoes, canned cranberry sauce, sweet potato pie made from canned sweet potatoes with marshmallows and maraschino cherries on top. The turkey was the only fully homemade thing. I have no idea if that is typical, but that is what we ate. Chowhounders tend to be more food-focused and probably higher class then average Americans, so they may not be typical either. Now, as an adult chowhounder, I make things from scratch or eat out on Thanksgiving. Actually, I don't do boxed or canned sides on any regular day, either. But that's what I grew up with. So in sum, probably not just marketing.

                1. For one thing, the product manufacturers pay for the display or end cap, not the supermarket.

                  Another thing is that most of that stuff will be on sale *now* and *not* the week leading up to Thanksgiving. I stock up on the canned cranberry sauce, canned pumpkin and canned vegetables for use throughout the year. The fried onions are my go-to snack.

                  Third point, it works for students, bachelors and people who need to bring 'something' to a dinner party.

                  1. are you telling me that you can make that stuff from scratch? will wonders never cease!

                    seriously, i think that for most people it turns out to be a mixture of from scratch, from the box, and "hybrid" or "doctored" from the package. More and more people I know are buying their turkeys precooked by their favorite restaurant or grocer, and then either buying or making the sides, again usually a combination.

                    I have 4 burners, one oven and two crock pots. that makes it virtually impossible to make thanksgiving all in one day, and while i can make some pies and other snacks in advance without some doctored mixes, my table would be pretty bare.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                      We hose Thanksgiving day for 25+ people. We make bread stuffing, gravy, cranberry and the pies from scratch. i do all the cooking. I make the pies the on Wednesday night, cook two turkeys on Thursday, all vegetables are fresh ( carrots, peas, mashed, sweet potatoes, spinach, butternut, corn, creamed cauliflower, green beans). I peel and cook the carrots, butternut, cauliflower early in the am, then reheat before dinner. We make 15 pounds of mashed- and that is done while the turkeys are resting. And last year, I had two celiacs for dinner, so I had separate gravy and stuffing ( made with tapioca bread) for them. I have lists and am really organized for this meal, so goes off without a hitch. before dinner, I have a cheese, crackers, deviled eggs. My guests usually bring their favorite appetizer. We always have a wonderful day!

                    2. I'm sure some canned yams and green bean casserole will show up at my Thanksgiving table. And the Libby's pie filling isn't too bad. But instant potatos on Thanksgiving Day? That's just wrong.....

                      1. I've been using fresh green beans for GB casserole for years. Last year I decided to try a completely from scratch version. The mushroom cream sauce was wonderful, a keeper, but the onions were terrible. From now on I'll make a hybrid with fresh beans, homemade sauce, and French's onions.

                        Our Thanksgiving is generally a mix of homemade and store bought. Homemade mashed potatoes and rolls, but the stuffing will come from Pepperidge Farm.

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: mpjmph

                          There is a difference between the Pepperidge Farm stuffing in the bag and the stuffing mix in a box (Stove-top). I don't really consider using PF bagged stuffing base as not being home-made.

                          Once Thanksgiving has passed, all of those "Thanksgiving displays" in the supermarkets will be replced with "Christmas displays", featuring all of the same stuff, but adding jars of (faux) minced meat and oodles of cookie-making supplies. Not to mention the tubes of slice-and-bake Christmas cookies in the refrigerated section. And the cartons of eggnog. And the pine-scented candles to make our guets think that tree in the corner isn't artificial.

                          1. re: PattiCakes

                            I've never used either (not that I'm a food snob, I just don't like stuffing) so what's the difference? Other than price?

                            1. re: Firegoat

                              stove top comes with this overly satly seasoning packet, you boil water and butter and the seasoning packet, then throw in the bread crumbs, stir, cover and let it sit for a while and then fluff... ta-da you have stuffing

                              it's not HORRIBLE... I don't equate it with stuffing or even dressing (ha won't go there)
                              PF stuffing is bagged up bread cubes, you can get them dry or soft (right?) and seasoned or not... you control the salt and in the unseasoned version, you control the seasoning and everything else... it's a small but sometimes very helpful shortcut in making what I also would call a home made stuffing

                              1. re: cgarner

                                That's a big 10-4 on the salt.

                                I usually combine the bagged stuffing with plain bread cubes & my own seasonings & veggies to make stuffing. Stuffing happens to be one of my weaknesses -- I would happily eat an entire plate of stuffing, although I might as well just pack slabs of it directly onto my hips and arse. My name is PattiCakes, and I am a stuffoholic.....

                                1. re: cgarner

                                  Since I was cooking so little stuffing (to stuff one turkey thigh) I tried a small bag of an organic stuffing mix. The directions were to saute chopped onion & celery, add to the mix along with chicken broth. It actually was pretty good. Not as good as homemade, but definitely NOT stove top.

                            2. re: mpjmph

                              My GB casserole got turned inside out: I serve finger foods at a pre-Thanksgiving wine tasting, so I need Thankgiving food that's easy to pick up and eat in one or two bites. I roast fresh green beans, bind them with cream sauce with a little ham, bacon or (preferably) Cajun tasso, fill mushrooms with it, bake the mushrooms, and top with crispy shallots. We call it "Inside-out Green Bean Casserole".

                              One of our other traditional dishes inverted for the day is a tiny puff-pastry shell, some very good Swiss or Comte cheese in the bottom, filled with cognac- and demi-glazed caramelized onions, baked until the cheese melts. That's our "Upside-down French Onion Soup".

                              1. re: WNYamateur

                                I would glady drive to WNY to have T-giving at your house
                                (I get all weak in the knees over tasso AND good cheese)

                                1. re: WNYamateur

                                  oh can I come too and join you along with cgarner? sounds wonderful

                              2. Different people use some but rarely all of those things as a base for their own creations. I use Bell's New England Stuffing (boxed) as a stuffing base. Canned yams can be used to amplify pumpkin pie to great effect. Instant mashed potatoes can be used as a sauce thickener. And don't you dare touch my can of French's fried onions, a rare guilty pleasure (indeed, for many Hounds). Condensed CoM soup becomes a quick but lazy thickener option for people who lactose intolerant guests but want something that offers liminal memories for many guests (while your liminal memories are bad in this regard, they are good for many more people, it seems).

                                Just for example.

                                1. I've been to T-day dinner at a lot of people's houses and yes, that's the meal a lot of places. The "homemade" aspect varies by family but in many places I've eaten, it's limited to the turkey, which is of course a commercially processed type shot through with "broth." I just remind myself we're lucky to be eating anything at all and focus on the company.

                                  Due to some dissatisfaction with the food at other people's places, years ago my family started a tradition of doing Thanksgiving on Friday instead of Thursday. On Thurs we go to other people's places and enjoy the company and eat a little of what is served, and Friday is our pull out all the stops, cook everything from scratch day. Because we usually don't have to be anywhere on Thurs til mid day or afternoon, we cook some things Thurs morning as well. We also have the benefit of all the stores being opened and many ingredients being discounted. That being said, there are still some things certain people won't give up, such as the gross canned cranberry stuff. But the Friday thing works out very well for everyone.

                                  1. Having celebrated Thanksgiving in October (I'm Canadian), I haven't quite seen the displays that you speak of. There are of course, tons of turkeys and hams and yams available for purchase, but I can't seem to recall the product placement, prepackaged food marketed to such an extent. In fact, in all my years of eating Thanksgiving dinner, I've never had a green bean casserole nor do I really know what it is. We've never eaten mashed potatoes or corn during Thanksgiving either. Pumpkin pie is so repellent to all of my family's tastebuds that we never purchase it.

                                    What I have noticed with some of my friends is that they're turning more and more to pre-prepared meals from scratch. They hire personal chefs, or purchase from a grocery store.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: daeira

                                      Canadian here too. But I have seen the kind of displays that the OP is talking about. At the Metro or Loblaws, just before T-day, the end caps of the aisles are always full of stuffing mix, pumpkin pie filling, cranberries, etc.

                                      At the hotel I where I used to work, the T-day and Christmas dinner boxes were very popular with the locals (resort town). Pre-cooked turkey, stuffing, sides, etc. Not everyone has the time or the desire or the knowledge to cook on special occasions.

                                    2. I buy that stuff for T-day food drives. Food pantries love those premade things because the people they serve don't have to add things they might not have in order to have a nice meal. You can make Stovetop with just water, if necessary. Same with mashed potato flakes. I've never made the green bean thing (although I have eaten it), but I think it's just made with canned things that food pantries are likely to have, so a person who grew up eating that casserole wouldd probably be able to put it together without going to any expense.

                                      The marketing thing I found most appalling was that Whole Foods was selling big bags of toasted bread cubes for stuffing for $8 a pound. Yes, that's right, I want to buy your stale toasted bread cubes for more than it would cost to buy 2 or 3 pounds of bread.

                                      1. I am not sure where there is a supermart bargain thread or even if there is one.
                                        But just now back from Von's and they have their brand of chocolate chips on sale for $1.69.
                                        I bought [dare I say] 7 bags. But then it's the holidays and I'll be making a lot with chocolate. Anyway, a really good deal. Also, at Von's is cream of mushroom soup and many many other soups, even golden mushroom and that I was surprised at, for 10 for $10.
                                        The giant garnet yams or sweet potatoes are 49 cents a pound.
                                        Just wanted to let my good fortune of finding good prices maybe be yours too.

                                        1. It really wouldn't surprise me if people do eat like that. I mean, it's easy to find those prepackaged or premade or helpful things and just grab them. I'm sure if you're asked to bring a vegetable to a party, it'd be very easy to pick up a can of those onion things a few cans of green beans and a few cans of creamy mushroom soup and basically there you go. You've done what was expected of you, you know people will eat it, it won't be the best but it will get eaten. Or stove top, how easy is that if you're asked to bring stuffing/dressing. A box or two, chicken broth and you can buy already chopped up vegetables.

                                          I think it's both, the store being smart and the consumers being overtired and out of patience to do things the from scratch. Sometimes it's just easier for the novice cook and loss leaders for the market.

                                          1. I'm finally seeing, via threads like these, that alot (most?) people aren't as much interested in the food as they are the coming together of family and friends. And, IMO, that's the correct way. I'd rather eat crappy food with great people than the other way around. Just my two cents.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              we went to someone's house we barely knew yesterday. I'd made a lot to take there but didn't know what sorts of food would be enjoyed for the most past.
                                              the food was wonderful, really nice and hot, flavorful and plentiful of course.
                                              but the people were lovely, the day enjoyable the chatting and sitting and walking etc all wonderful, and the food, you're right, was secondary to the great time we had there.

                                            2. How about those horrible, horrible mechanized toys? A bass, doing the chicken dance? A funny/bad thing was when my friend Kalani dashed up to the end-cap display and pushed every.single.button and then dashed off again, while I stood paralyzed, watching 100 fishes sing, "take me to the river." all about one beat behind the other.

                                              1. Sure they do. The Thanksgiving dinner we went to included mushy canned green beans, and canned yams (they were okay - it's hard to ruin a sweet potato irreparably!) I was selective about what I ate, but everyone else was happily chowing down on the mushy stuff and going back for seconds.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Kajikit

                                                  They must have been thankful mush or otherwise ;(

                                                2. I admit to going by the store this morning and finding the pumpkin pies from the bakery for $2.99. With a bf who loves Pumpkin pie and could eat it daily, I snatched it up as I can't make one from scratch cheaper. (In my defense, I did make a homemade on on Thanksgiving.) The question will be if he can tell the difference!

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Firegoat

                                                    6 years ago when I was 9 months pregnant and hosting Thanksgiving I had ordered the boxed Thanksgiving dinner from Stop & Shop. It seemed to make as many if not more dishes than if I had cooked the entire thing from scratch and everything was loaded with butter. If I were ever in similar circumstances I think I would just make it simple with turkey, mashed potatoes, vegetable and dessert. scratch all the side dishes and fancy serving wear.