Thanksgiving is a month away and as the CDC hands down new guidelines for how to handle the family-focused holiday in the age of COVID – such as focusing more on Zoom meals – farmers in the United States are trying to figure out how to pivot as experts predict consumers will want smaller turkeys for smaller gatherings.
“There are two issues at play here,” Sophie Mellet-Grinnell, a meat and poultry specialist at Baldor Specialty Foods, which sells fresh turkeys, told Fox News. “First, the COVID-19 pandemic caused universal slowdowns - and in some cases complete shutdowns - in the nation’s poultry processing plants, drastically limiting supply. Secondly, with people gathering for holidays in fewer numbers, the demand for smaller birds has skyrocketed. That means there’s going to be a run on small to modest-sized turkeys this season.”
According to recently surveys conducted by big names in selling fresh turkey, like Butterball, Hormel Foods and Kroger, consumers are planning to scale down Thanksgiving festivities to only immediate family, as reported by the New York Times. As a result, farmers and stores are trying to deliver smaller birds – however, as the Times reported pointed out, farmers cannot easily pivot to harvesting smaller turkeys so late in the season.
"Those shoppers who go looking for a small bird in late November or December are going to find far fewer pickings and much higher prices."
But even those brands that projected demand for smaller turkeys are still expecting less supply, Mellet-Grinnell said.
“At Baldor, we anticipated this market swing, so we worked with our turkey farm partners early on in the season to ramp up on small bird production. Even so, we’re looking at a shortfall of at least 10% from our best suppliers, possibly a bit more from our specialty Organic and Natural Turkey Farms.”
And Mellet-Grinnell’s anticipating, regardless of size, turkeys to be in short supply this holiday season.
“While we no longer buy from commodity markets for turkeys, we hear from our colleagues there that the big packers have suffered major production shortages and supply chain outages since the pandemic hit. From what I understand, they’ll be even less supply of major-brand birds this year, big or small.”
Though consumers have yet to start shopping for Thanksgiving dinner, experts still think consumers will opt for smaller turkeys, or just cuts of meat like legs or breasts.
If you are planning on serving turkey this year, Mellet-Grinnell advises to shop early.
“My advice to shoppers? Get your turkey early this year. Find the right size and then throw it into the deepest part of your freezer. Those shoppers who go looking for a small bird in late November or December are going to find far fewer pickings and much higher prices.”