Turkey growers guess at COVID-19’s effect on Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving turkey is a meal most consumers look forward to all year round. However, this year’s meal could look a little different given the global pandemic.

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Syda Production | Shutterstock.com
Syda Production | Shutterstock.com

The Thanksgiving turkey is a meal most consumers look forward to all year round. However, this year’s meal could look a little different given the global pandemic.

A change to holiday plans

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that consumers plan a small dinner with the people that live in their household or plan virtual or outdoor gatherings for the holiday this year to minimize the risk of getting or spreading the virus that causes COVID-19, according to guidance posted on their website.

As a result, people are rethinking their usual plans, staying home instead of attending traditional large family gathering. Over half of respondents to a recent survey from HelloFresh said they were planning a virtual Thanksgiving, while 18% indicated that they would be cooking the holiday dinner for the first time this year.

Smaller gatherings mean that there may not be the usual demand for the 20-pound turkey, an uncertainty that leaves many turkey farmers in flux.

“It’s really the size of the celebrations that has changed,” said Joel Brandenberger, president of the National Turkey Federation (NTF) told The New York Times. “How that translates to the size of the bird people want is something we are a little less clear on.”

Approximately 40 million turkeys are eaten on Thanksgiving each year, according to NTF estimates. The group believes the 2020 figure will be around the same, although the size and type of turkeys consumed could change.

Making plans to pivot

Pivoting to smaller turkeys can be a major challenge for growers. Contracts that stipulate turkey size can often be signed a year in advance. Farmers have also worked hard to control the genetics, feed and other factors that contribute to the expected growth of a turkey.\

Some farmers are processing birds at younger ages to meet the expected demand for smaller birds. Other strategies include a focus on hens, which are naturally smaller and implementing adjustments to feed to slow growth.

Retailers have already shifted plans to meet the expected change in demand.

In a recent statement, Walmart said that “With more customers planning for smaller groups, we anticipate a higher preference for smaller turkeys. As always, we’ll have plenty of whole turkeys, but this year, we’ve increased our assortment of bone-in and boneless turkey breasts by 20-30% in stores across the country.”

View our continuing coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

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