What Food Companies Can Learn from People's Holiday Eating Habits


When the holiday binge season arrives, many of us wonder how we will possibly get through these long, food-filled days without blowing our healthy-eating goals. Having done much research about people’s behaviors surrounding eating and drinking, we can tell you that it is easier to keep yourself in check if you know what’s driving your consumption decisions. Food and beverage companies, this is important for you too—because better under understanding people’s deeper motivations for eating and drinking will help you fit better into their lives, whether it’s to help them indulge or avoid.



The chart above shows that people have eight core motivations for eating (or “jobs” that they look to food and beverages to fulfill). During the holidays, people fall into old habits. One of the big ones is overeating. So, let’s look at the jobs of eating most associated with habitual behavior: “Avoid and Resist” and “Satisfy a Craving.”

The job of “Avoid & Resist” occurs when you want to feel in-control and powerful, avoiding regret and guilt. With this job, long-term goals are the focus, with satisfaction in the moment being sacrificed. An example of this may be your hard-boiled egg every morning for breakfast.

“Satisfy a Craving” is a job where satisfaction is high but the focus is on the short-term. You want instant gratification and crave the familiar. For example, your favorite chocolate or ice cream.

Both jobs reside in the Stability hemisphere of the chart, meaning that with both jobs, you’re seeking the familiar, whether a familiar solution to an immediate craving or a known strategy for avoiding slip-ups. Both jobs also provide their distinct forms of satisfaction. The key during the holidays is to consciously shift more of your habitual behavior in favor of the habits that give you long-term satisfaction vs. short-term.

What are the foods you habitually turn to when you are in resistance mode? Keep lots of this type of food around during the holidays because you will feel in control when you choose it. Likewise, identify what foods give you instant gratification, and a have a “resist” snack handy whenever there is a chance you might encounter the craving. With this approach, you’ll still be making familiar, satisfying choices, but, ideally, more of them will be in accordance with your long-term goals.

Why is habitual behavior so critical for brands to understand? Because habit breeds loyalty.

People become loyal to you for two key reasons:

  1. If you help them maintain their long-term health goals, ultimately giving them a sense of control and power.
  2. If you create a highly satisfying experience in the moment, which they’ll want to repeat over and over again.

Avoid & Resist and Satisfy a Craving are critical jobs for brands seeking to increase loyalty. Showing empathy for and providing solutions to these jobs to be done (whether through product/experience innovation or branding positioning) will result in repeat customers.


The Way We Eat

Clearly, our habits are not the only factors at play when we make food choices during the holidays. There are plenty of other circumstances that affect us. Here are some other insights about our culture’s consumption patterns that have a universal effect, be it holiday season or not.

  1. Snacking increases as the day goes on and as the week progresses
  2. Fruit as a snack decreases as the week continues
  3. Pre-packaged foods increase throughout the week into the weekend
  4. People are more likely to indulge themselves and go outside their comfort zone Friday through Sunday.
  5. Commuting, getting ready to get out of the house (including cajoling children), and watching television at home are the most likely situations in which people snack.

But what is it about the holidays that makes us eat more? There are 13.4 billion food and beverage occasions every week among U.S. adults. Twenty percent of them—more than any of the other food and drink occasions on the chart—are motivated by the desire to “Connect and Comfort.” The dominance of this job explains why the holidays are so fraught; we’re doing a lot of connecting and faced with a lot of comfort food around Thanksgiving and during the month of December.  Which begs the question: Are we actually connecting with friends and family over food, or is the food giving us comfort in the form of escape? Next time you find yourself reaching for that familiar craving and fleeing to a location to eat it, stop and remind yourself that you would be better off reaching for a good conversation. You will be fulfilling your job of Connect and Comfort, but with fewer calories.

Meanwhile, brands can use these insights to better connect with people and their lives, whether it’s building brand loyalty by leveraging the habit-oriented jobs mentioned above, or simply by better understanding where they sit among the eight different jobs on the map. Does your brand currently enable people to Live in the Moment? Or does it more likely fulfill the jobs of Relax and Take a Break? Brands can also chart where their competitors sit and discover white spaces for growth and innovation.

INTRIGUED? Please reach out to [email protected] to learn more about the Jobs to Be Won™ for food + beverage companies.