Busting Memorial Day BBQ myths: What you need to know for your holiday grill-out

Is there a “best” time to grocery shop? Are burgers or dogs more popular? Here, we’re answering some of the biggest questions about holiday BBQs.

May 13, 2024
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Busting Memorial Day BBQ myths: What you need to know for your holiday grill-out
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Busting Memorial Day BBQ myths: What you need to know for your holiday grill-out

Upside has already crunched the data to issue the final word on some of Memorial Day’s persistent gas station myths. But what about Memorial Day grocery myths? Is there a “best” time to do your holiday shopping, and what are the most popular items on cookout menus?  

Before the sunglasses become a permanent fixture and the yacht rock starts blaring, we’re answering a few burning questions about Memorial Day grocery sales so you can plan ahead and make this holiday a great one. 

Myth #1: You can skip the crowds by grocery shopping on Memorial Day itself

Answer: Fiction

We see customers shopping around at up to five stores a month, and that can get hectic. So you might want to time your trip to avoid the crowds as much as possible. Maybe getting your barbecue items on Memorial Day itself is a sort of “cheat code” to beat the rush — the days prior to the holiday are probably the busiest, right? Your line of thinking is correct, but don’t expect an empty store if you swing by on Memorial Day, because it will still be busier than usual.

On average throughout the year, we see that the busiest days at the grocery store are Saturday and Sunday. That’s also the case for Memorial Day grocery sales. Compared to the average day:

  • Friday sees 9.9% more foot traffic than usual 
  • Saturday sees 13.5% more foot traffic than usual (the busiest day!) 
  • Sunday sees 12.7% more foot traffic than usual 
  • Monday (Memorial Day) sees 7.5% more foot traffic than usual 

So Memorial Day isn’t as busy as the rest of the weekend, but it’s still busier than average. If you really want to beat the crowds, get your shopping trip done on Thursday (or even earlier for shelf-stable items).    

Myth #2: People spend more than usual on their Memorial Day shopping trip 

Answer: Fiction

We compared the average cost of a trip to the grocery in all of 2023 to the average trip in the one-week period around Memorial Day. Contrary to what you might believe, this myth is just that, a myth.

In all of 2023, the average trip to the grocery store came in just shy of $50 — the exact total was $49.87. Meanwhile, the average grocery trip over Memorial Day week (the prior Tuesday to Memorial Day itself) was $49.61. It’s pretty similar, but actually came in lower than the average total for the rest of the year. 

Myth #3: Hamburgers are more popular than hot dogs  

Answer: Fact

You’ve got the items for the perfect barbecue on your list — thinking about how much you need to buy? Take into account that more people will want hamburgers than hot dogs.  

To compare the relative popularity of burgers and dogs, we looked at year-round bun sales and compared those sales to Memorial Day. The rest of the year, burgers appear to be more popular than hot dogs by quite a bit — hamburger buns make up more than half (53.5%) of overall bun sales, while hot dog buns only make up 38.6%. 

Hot dogs do appear to close the gap considerably over Memorial Day weekend, when sales of store-brand hot dog buns increase by a whopping 449%. Hamburger buns, too, see a major spike for the holiday, just not quite as large — their sales increase by 273%. However, hot dogs still remain slightly less popular. Over MDW, burger buns make up 49.4% of the overall share of bun sales, and hot dog buns are at 46.5%. The remaining share of sales, which is less than 10% all year round, is made up of slider buns and dinner rolls. 

Myth #4: Ketchup and mustard stand alone as first-choice toppers 

Answer: Fiction

True, you’ll find the ubiquitous red and yellow bottles on any cookout table. But our data shows they won’t be alone.

Take a look below at the 10 best-selling condiments over MDW. Perhaps surprisingly, neither ketchup or mustard are first in the condiment aisle. If one brand is the big winner of the weekend, it appears to be Sweet Baby Ray’s, whose BBQ sauces hold the top spot on the list and three of the top 10. 

How much more popular is Sweet Baby Ray’s Original, the most popular condiment overall? It’s purchased 29% more often than Heinz Easy Squeeze Ketchup, the second seller on the list; it’s purchased 38% more often than French’s Yellow Mustard, the best-selling mustard on the list and fourth overall condiment.

Now, could it be possible that sales of ketchup and mustard are relatively lower because everybody already has ketchup and mustard? That could very well be the case. This next chart shows the percent increase in sales for the same 10 items on MDW compared to the rest of the year. It shows that, indeed, all of the barbeque sauces see a surge in sales around the holiday.

While all of the BBQ sauces are disproportionately popular purchases for Memorial Day, ketchup, mustard, and Frank’s RedHot sauce are more popular year-round. The surge in BBQ sauce sales around the holiday might indicate that grocery shoppers stock up for Memorial Day and beyond — there will be more cookouts in the weeks to come, after all.

Busting Memorial Day BBQ myths: What you need to know for your holiday grill-out

The Upside Team

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The Upside team is made up of data scientists and industry experts who are passionate about delivering empowering content to our readers. With a focus on providing practical insights and meaningful perspectives, we create engaging materials across a wide range of topics. From exploring industry trends and offering expert analysis to sharing useful tips and inspiring ideas, our team works diligently to provide you with the information you need to thrive.

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