For the turkey industry, this Thanksgiving is a guessing game.
Millions of Americans are expected to celebrate miniature celebrations amid the coronavirus pandemic, heeding official warnings about travel and crowded indoor gatherings. That leaves farmers and groceries anxiously competing to predict what people will want on their holiday table.
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Kroger ̵1; the nation’s largest grocery chain – says their research shows that 43% of shoppers intend to only hold Thanksgiving with people in their immediate households. It bought more turkey than usual – of any size – but it also predicts an increase in demand for alternatives, including ham, roast pork, and seafood. Kroger also hopes to see more demand for plant-based meats, like mushroom and squash stuffed vegan roast meats.
Walmart says it will still sell more whole turkeys, but it will also have 30 percent more turkey breast in its stores to cater to shoppers who don’t want to cook whole.
It’s not always easy to turn around. Angela Wilson, owner of Avedano’s Holly Park Market in San Francisco, ordered turkey last year for this Thanksgiving. She couldn’t cancel the order, so they’re still coming.
But Wilson says this Thanksgiving can be busier than before, as customers who typically walk out of town will stay home. She also stockpiles smaller birds like quails and hens.
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Some farmers are making edits based on what they think customers will be looking for. Dede Boies raises heritage turkeys at Root Down Farm in Pescadero, California. The turkeys she sells for Thanksgiving were born in May, so she spent months thinking about how coronaviruses might affect the holiday.
Boies decided to harvest some turkeys earlier this year. It’s a gamble, because the birds gain a lot of fat and flavor in their last few weeks, but she predicts that customers will want smaller birds. She also provided more chickens and ducks.
“We have invested a lot of time, energy and love in these birds, and the bottom line is that they go and they are celebrated for these wonderful meals. We just really hope that happens, ”said Boies.
Butterball – which usually sells 30% of America’s Thanksgiving turkey’s 40 million turkeys – said it was expecting more gatherings, but didn’t convince people to want smaller turkeys. Their research shows that 75% of consumers plan to serve the same size turkey or a larger turkey than last year.
Butterball says about half of their turkeys will be in the 10-16 lb range. and half will be in the 16-24 lb. range, as usual. Rebecca Welch, senior brand manager for seasonality at Butterball, said anyone looking for a specific size should plan their shopping early.
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“Don’t be afraid to grow,” she said. “It’s easy to cook a large turkey because it’s a smaller one, and that means more leftovers.”
Nancy Johnson Horn of Queens, New York, often shares a large turkey with her husband, parents and family of 5. But Horn, who writes blog The Mama Maven, says gathering won’t take place this year as her kids are going to live school and she’s worried about spreading the virus.
“I’m suffering too, I’ll have to cook for myself this year,” she said. She is not sure what will be on the menu. She only cooks a whole turkey once in her life and she has never made mashed potatoes.
This Thanksgiving came at a time that was already very difficult for the US $ 4.3 billion turkey industry. According to Mark Jordan, chief executive officer of LEAP Market Analytics in Jonesboro, Arkansas, thanks to better breast etching technology, turkey consumption per capita almost doubled compared to the 1980s, peaking at 14.4. pound / person in 1996.
However, interest in turkeys is decreasing, in part thanks to the price increase five years ago when the birds were infected with avian flu. Jordan says the annual consumption is around 12 pounds.
According to Nielsen data, Turkey sales even dropped on Thanksgiving as consumers explore alternatives. Last November, Americans spent $ 643 million on turkeys, down 3.5 percent from the previous year. They spent $ 1.9 billion on beef, up 4%. And they’ve spent $ 12 million – or more than double the year before – on alternatives like plant-based meat.
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Jordan contends that the demand uncertainty during Thanksgiving will hit groceries the most. If they discount the turkeys, they can sell them, but it will hurt profits. If they keep the prices high and consumers ignore them, they’ll be stuck with a lot of turkeys.
“I don’t see many ways for them to win this holiday season,” said Jordan.
Uncertainty is likely to repeat itself on Christmas – both in the United States and beyond.
The Christmas turkey is a staple in Britain, where turkey keepers are also preparing for the festivities of shrinking after the government has ordered people not to meet in groups of more than six.
Richard Calcott raises 2,000 Christmas turkeys a year at the Calcott Turkeys in Tamworth, England. He bought his turkey – known as the rooster – in February and March, and it was too late to switch to a smaller breed when pandemic restrictions went into effect.
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He adjusted their diet to reduce the weight of each turkey by about 2.2 pounds by the time they were ready for market. However, Calcott says he continues to receive some orders for the larger birds.
“It has been a very difficult year for a lot of people this year,” he said. “Christmas will be a good time for families to get back together.”