Most investors focus on which retailer will win Black Friday, even though the shortened Christmas shopping schedule this year means most businesses began offering deals much earlier than the unofficial kickoff to the holiday season. No one considers what the impact might be on supermarkets, and even they pretty much view it as just another Friday.

But supermarkets have their own big shopping day, one that sees store traffic often double in volume. Not surprisingly, it is the day before Thanksgiving, or what data analytics firm Placer.ai calls Turkey Wednesday. According to the company, "there may not be a bigger day for grocers."

Supermarket shopping crowd

Image source: Getty Images.

In need of a traffic cop

It makes sense that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving would become the Black Friday of grocery stores. Although most consumers have likely already purchased a turkey by then to celebrate the holiday, there always seem to be some side dishes, fixings, or condiments that get forgotten until the last minute.

Placer.ai took a look at foot traffic for a half-dozen or so supermarkets, including Albertsons, Kroger (NYSE:KR), Publix, Safeway, and Stop & Shop. For the period from October 2017 through October 2019, it discovered these interesting tidbits:

  • Store traffic on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at Albertsons more than doubled to 102.2% above the baseline in 2017, and surged 96.6% above it in 2018, beating out every other day of the year.
  • Publix surged between 87.2% and 85.2% above the baseline, also beating every other day during the period.
  • Safeway visits jumped between 78.4% and 75.8% above the baseline for the same period, and beat all other days of the year.

Turkey Wednesday wasn't the busiest day for every store. Kroger and Stop & Shop reported having a day or two that was busier over the past couple of years, but the day before Thanksgiving was still in the top three in both 2017 and 2018.

Other supermarkets -- such as Giant, the grocery chain owned by Ahold Delhaize (OTC:ADRNY), which also owns Stop & Shop; and Amazon.com's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Whole Foods Market -- also saw their visits peak on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

The one real outlier was Wegmans, whose biggest day of the year both years was Dec. 23, with a 91.3% increase in visits on that day in 2018. Even the day before Easter was bigger than Turkey Wednesday for the regional supermarket.

The retail king is probably a grocery king, too

Walmart (NYSE:WMT) wasn't called out in the data, likely because it's difficult to suss out traffic for the supermarket section of its superstores from the rest of the merchandise. But it's safe to assume it sees a spike in store traffic that day, too.

Walmart already enjoys a huge spike in brick-and-mortar sales on Black Friday, when some 22 million shoppers flood its stores. Sales last year hit an estimated $4.4 billion for the day, comfortably ahead of runner-up Amazon at $3.9 billion.

So it's plausible that a good number of consumers (though undoubtedly not near the Black Friday crowds) also rush in to Walmart on Turkey Wednesday.

Setting the table for growth

The experience at Kroger isn't particularly surprising, either, considering the difficulty that the biggest pure-play grocery chain has had over the past year or so in turning its business around. But it recently reported it is looking for fiscal year 2020 profits and comparable-store sales to exceed Wall Street guidance, which caused its stock to soar. Maybe even Kroger will have something to give thanks for on Turkey Wednesday next year.

While most investors will be watching retailer results from the launch of the Christmas shopping season, it might be worthwhile to look at which supermarkets will be feasting on a surge on the Black Friday of grocery stores.