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Thanksgiving feast or famine? Turkey’s industry left to guess

For the turkey industry, this Thanksgiving is a guessing game.

Millions of Americans are expected to have scaled down parties amid the coronavirus pandemic, following official warnings against travel and large indoor gatherings. That leaves anxious turkey farmers and merchants looking to predict what people will have on their holiday tables.

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1; the country’s largest grocery chain – said its research shows that 43% of shoppers only plan to celebrate Thanksgiving with those in their nearest household. It has bought more turkeys than usual – in all sizes – but it also predicts an increase in demand for alternatives, including ham, roast pork and seafood. Hooks also expect to see more demand for plant-based meats, like a vegan roast stuffed with mushrooms and squash.

Walmart says it will still carry lots of whole turkeys, but it will also have 30% more turkey breasts in its stores to accommodate shoppers who do not want to make a whole bird.

Turning is not always easy. Angela Wilson, owner of Avedano’s Holly Park Market in San Francisco, ordered turkeys last year for this Thanksgiving. She can not cancel the order, so they still come in.

But Wilson said Thanksgiving was perhaps busier than before, as customers who usually leave town stay at home. She also has stockings on smaller birds such as quails and wild chickens.

In addition to meat that sells plant-based meatballs in stores

Some farmers make adjustments based on what they think customers will look for. Dede Boies raises turkeys with arveas at Root Down Farm in Pescadero, California. The turkeys she sells for Thanksgiving were born in May, so she has spent months thinking about how coronavirus can affect the holidays.

Boies decided to harvest some turkeys early this year. It’s a game because the birds are getting a lot of fat and flavor in the last few weeks, but she reckons customers want smaller birds. She also offers more chickens and ducks.

“We have invested so much time and energy and love in these birds and the whole point is that they go and they are celebrated with people for these great meals. We really hope it still happens, ”Boies said.

Butterball – which typically sells 30% of America’s 40 million Thanksgiving turkeys – said it expects more gatherings, but it’s not convinced people want smaller turkeys. Its surveys show that 75% of consumers plan to serve turkey the same size or a larger turkey than they did last year.

Butterball says that about half of the turkeys will be in the range of 10-16 lbs. and half will be in the range of 16-24 lb., the same as usual. Anyone looking for a particular size should plan on shopping early, said Rebecca Welch, senior brand manager for seasonal at Butterball.


“Don’t be afraid to go big,” she said. “It’s as easy to cook a large turkey as it is a smaller one, and that means more leftovers.”

Nancy Johnson Horn of Queens, New York, usually shares a large turkey with her in-laws, her parents and her own family of five. But Horn, who writes The Mama Maven blog, said collection is not happening this year because her children go to school in person and she is worried about spreading the virus.

“As much as it hurts, I’m going to have to cook myself this year,” she said. She’s not sure what will be on the menu. She has only cooked a whole turkey once in her life and she has never made mashed potatoes.

This Thanksgiving comes at an already weak time for the US $ 4.3 billion US turkey industry. Thanks to better technology for cutting breast meat, consumption per. Per capita turkey nearly doubled in the 1980s, peaking at 14.4 pounds per capita. Person in 1996 according to Mark Jordan, CEO of LEAP Market Analytics in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

But interest in turkey has fallen steadily, thanks in part to price increases five years ago when flocks were hit by bird flu. Annual consumption is now around £ 12, Jordan said.

Turkey’s sales have even fallen on Thanksgiving as consumers explore alternatives, according to Nielsen data. Last November, Americans spent $ 643 million on turkey, which is 3.5% lower than the year before. They spent $ 1.9 billion on beef, up 4%. And they spent $ 12 million – or more than double the year before – on alternatives like plant-based meat.


Jordan believes that the uncertainty surrounding Thanksgiving demand will hurt groceries the most. If they discount turkeys, they can sell them, but that will hurt profits. If they keep prices high and consumers pass, they are stuck with many turkeys.

“I don’t see many ways they win this holiday season,” Jordan said.

The uncertainty may see a recurrence at Christmas – both in the US and beyond.

Christmas turkeys are a daily sight in the UK, where turkey farmers also blame themselves for slimming festivities after the government asked people not to meet in groups of more than six.

Richard Calcott raises 2,000 Christmas turkeys each year at Calcott Turkeys in Tamworth, England. He bought his turkey chickens – known as poultry – in February and March, and it was too late to switch to a smaller breed when pandemic restrictions took hold.


He has adjusted their diets to reduce the weight of each turkey by about 2.2 pounds when ready for marketing. Still, Calcott said he continues to get some orders for larger birds.

“It has been a very difficult year for many people this year,” he said. “Christmas will be a great time to bring families back together.”

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