Thanksgiving Amid a Pandemic Spells Disaster for Turkey Producers

Oct 27, 2020 02:03 AM EDT | By Kristine M. (

Will Americans buy whole birds with people now celebrating Thanksgiving in smaller gatherings? This is the hard question faced by turkey producers nationwide.

Thanksgiving season is fast approaching, and with it, the hum of holiday preparations focus on loved ones, gratitude, and, of course, lots of delicious food. However, several months amid the COVID-19 pandemic, more than a few negative thoughts may come to mind. One of which is what most turkey producers are facing.

Facing Uncertainties Amid The Pandemic

According to the NY Times, the current turkey producers' current situation leads them to question how many whole turkeys they will be able to sell for this Thanksgiving season. Recent changes and strict health safety protocols profoundly impacted the way Thanksgiving will be celebrated this year.

Most people choose to gather in small groups to share one or two whole turkeys for the celebration. Additionally, this change can also lead to a higher demand for smaller sized turkeys and demand for parts like whole breasts. Nonetheless, this reality is something that turkey producers don't like to hear. 

Turkey Consumption In America

According to a survey conducted by, about 70 percent of Americans plan to celebrate Thanksgiving more safely in accordance with CDC guidelines. 

As CBS News reports, these guidelines include a recommendation of holding a virtual celebration for families that are far apart from each other. Additionally, they also advise families to avoid traveling and recommend staying at home and having a small dinner party. 

Big turkey producers Hormel Foods and Butterball also conducted their consumer surveys. These companies are reported to have sold around 40 million turkeys combined last year. 

The survey showed that big gatherings will be broken into smaller ones but will still focus on turkey as the celebration's prized menu.

According to the President of the National Turkey Federation, Joel Brandenberger, the change is really with the size of the celebrations, and that how it's related to the bird's size that people will demand is still a bit vague. 

He further explains that calculating the whole process is a challenge since the contracts to purchase poults are written a year earlier and do not control the turkey's size once it matures.

Echoing this sentiment is John Peterson, the President of the Turkey Research and Promotion Council for Minnesota. He describes the turkey industry as one in which you can quickly pivot and that they should have already made decisions back in March or April for them to have a meaningful impact on changing anything for Thanksgiving.

He then said that only a quarter of his turkeys would be sold for Thanksgiving this year. To meet the expected demands, he tries to keep his turkeys small, which sometimes means slaughtering them earlier than expected in a typical year. 

Since the cooperative turkey producers sell directly to families and are not locked into a supermarket chain's schedule, they can move processing timelines to produce smaller birds, unlike larger producers. 

Still, no one can predict what the American appetite for whole turkeys will be this year or whether their desire to be together with their families who always come to Thanksgiving will outweigh concerns over COVID-19. 

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