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Demand for small turkeys spikes for the coronavirus Thanksgiving

Ethan Wolff-Mann
·Senior Writer
·3 min read

A week before Thanksgiving, the CDC announced that Americans should not celebrate Thanksgiving with people outside of their household, discouraging travel and gatherings.

Many people are following these precautions, or at least planning on having smaller celebrations, which means less food and smaller turkeys.

This has put the turkey supply chain into an interesting position as it tries to figure out how to match the supply to a changed demand.

“We’re coping,” Dan Bailey of Bailey Turkey Farm in Lyme, N.H., told Yahoo Finance. “We’re cutting them in half, doing breasts. One guy called and wanted six legs and drumsticks and thighs and said ‘we’re having three people so two a piece.”

With the traditional Thanksgiving big gatherings canceled, Bailey and his peers are having to get creative.

“It’s hard to explain to people today that the meat will freeze and you can do pies and all kinds of stuff with it,” he said.

For Bailey, at least, he projects he’ll end up with demand that matches up with the supply, with few leftover birds.

Frozen turkeys are pictured in a freezer case during the coronavirus pandemic in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., November 19, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Frozen turkeys are pictured in a freezer case during the coronavirus pandemic in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., November 19, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Turkey farmers usually get their “holiday birds” right around the first of July, and there’s not that much a farm can do to assure the turkeys stay small except get them later, Bailey said.

At a bigger scale, Ariane Daugin, the CEO of D’Artagnan, has also seen the demand for small birds rise.

“We have seen a significant downsizing of the turkeys!” she wrote in an email. Daugin said the New Jersey-based meat company, which sells a wide variety of products, forecasted the need for smaller birds last April when the turkeys were born and set up for the demand six months later.

By Wednesday, D’Artagnan expects to have sold 21,000 turkeys – “lots of 12-pounds, lots of even smaller 8-pounds.” But Daugin said it may end up being the same total weight in turkeys as last year when the company sold 16,000 turkeys at an average weight of 16 to 18 pounds.

Butterball CEO Jay Jandrain told Yahoo Finance that the company commissioned a survey of 1,004 households in September and found that 75% of were going for the same size turkey as usual — or bigger.

“There is a desire for slightly smaller turkeys, but what’s important to note is most say they are planning for the same size or even a larger turkey than last year,” said Jandrain of the study.

On top of the little turkeys, D’Artagnan’s Daugin pointed to another unusual change this Thanksgiving — the realization some households are having that maybe the turkey isn’t the most appropriate bird for a small group.

“A lot of households have switched to geese (10 to 12 pounds) or duck (5 to 6 pounds),” she wrote in an email. “We’ve also seen loins of venison and bison orders climb up a lot.”

With the lower demand comes lowered prices. According to the American Farm Bureau, the average cost of a 10-person Thanksgiving dinner — the standard for measurement — has fallen to the lowest since 2010, just $46.90.


Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, personal finance, retail, airlines, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

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