Turkey, cranberries, apple pie ... and Brussels sprouts?
Recently, The Packer’s news editor Chris Koger received a news release from a restaurant in the UK announcing the menu for the “traditional American Thanksgiving” lunch it plans to offer on the holiday. Most of the items sounded pretty standard to us — turkey, cranberries, apple pie — but one dish caught us all by surprise: Brussels sprouts.
“Brussels sprouts?” we asked incredulously. “Where are those a traditional Thanksgiving food?”
Now, don’t get me wrong — I love Brussels sprouts. In fact, I keep a running tally of my favorite Brussels sprouts dishes at area restaurants, and the presence of sprouts on the menu can be a deciding factor in trying a new place.
So I’m decidedly pro-sprouts. I’ve just never seen them on the Thanksgiving table.
In England, however, Brussels sprouts are a holiday staple. According to a 2016 article in The Telegraph, British retailer Asda expected to sell 140 million Brussels sprouts in the two weeks leading up to Christmas.
That means that every person in the UK consumed an average of two sprouts that Christmas. In 2015, the South Yorkshire town of Barnsley was declared to be the Brussels sprouts capital of England, with UK retailer Morrisons estimating residents consumed 1.4 million sprouts that year — that’s an average of nearly six sprouts eaten by each of Barnsley’s 239,300 residents.
Americans aren’t slackers when it comes to Brussels sprouts, though.
Since 2015, the year The Packer first started tracking Brussels sprouts in its annual Fresh Trends consumer survey, about 20% to 22% of respondents have said they purchased the green vegetable in the past 12 months. The amount of sprouts they’re buying, however, has skyrocketed.
According to data from IRI/Fresh Look Marketing in The Packer’s Produce Market Guide, in 2015, 64.4 million pounds of Brussels sprouts were sold in the U.S. Fast-forward to 2018 and that number was 102.1 million pounds, with a slight average price increase of 21 cents per pound.
Retail sales went from nearly $191 million in 2015 to just over $324 million in 2018, and grew from 0.3% to 0.5% of total produce sales, according to the IRI/Fresh Look data.
Google Trends search results show a pretty steady U.S. interest in Brussels sprouts from 2015-2019, with searches for the vegetable nearly quadrupling around — surprise, surprise — Thanksgiving, with smaller spikes around Christmas. Google Trends isn’t reporting a similar spike so far this month, but that could be because Thanksgiving is at its latest this year.
Google Trends also shows that interest in Brussels sprouts is strongest in the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, which might explain why none of our Midwestern-born staff had grown up eating the vegetable at Thanksgiving.
But fear not, there’s hope for the sprouts on Midwest menus, too. In response to a question I posed on Facebook about what fruit or vegetable Thanksgiving sides people traditionally served, one friend (with six kids) replied: “For years we had candied carrots, peas & mushrooms, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes. More recently the carrots and peas have become optional and Brussels sprouts have started to make appearances (because they’re awesome).”
I couldn’t agree more. Maybe Brussels sprouts will make it onto my Thanksgiving table after all.
Amelia Freidline is The Packer’s designer and copy chief. E-mail her at [email protected].