SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Americans eat an estimated 46 million turkeys on Thanksgiving, according to the National Turkey Federation.
But Thanksgiving in America could be different this year during a pandemic.
Market Watch cited a Butterball survey that said about 90% of Americans still planned to have a turkey for Thanksgiving this year. That turkey could be smaller as Thanksgiving dinners may be smaller as people cut back on the size of the gathering because of the coronavirus, Market Watch reported.
The Centers for Disease Control said on Nov. 19 that as COVID-19 “cases continue to increase rapidly across the United States, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with.” The CDC also recommends that wearing a mask and practicing social distancing can make holiday gatherings such as Thanksgiving safer.
Minnesota raises the most turkeys of any U.S. state.
Turkey growers in Minnesota have been “planning for both situations,” said Sarah Anderson, the executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. Some growers have been taking birds earlier at a smaller size for processing for consumers who may need to downsize the meal this year, Anderson said.
Growers are “dialed in (potential market demands) even though it is difficult to pivot,” Anderson said.
While various distributors and market observers predicted that smaller turkeys will be in demand this year, Merlin Goebel, who owns Sunshine Foods in Hartford with his wife Sherri, haven’t seen a decrease in demand for bigger birds.
“We’re selling just as many big turkeys as last year,” Merlin Goebel said. “We expected to see a lot smaller ones.”
The trend at Sunshine in Hartford seems to reflect one shared by the majority of those surveyed by Butterball. The company said its survey showed that 3/4ths of all respondents planned to serve the same size turkey or larger than last year.
While the National Turkey Federation expected more small turkeys to be bought this year in favor of large traditional turkeys, that hasn’t been the situation nationwide, said Beth Breeding, the organization’s vice president of communications and marketing.
“Families are buying a traditional sized turkey if not larger,” Breeding said. Still, there is also interest in the smaller birds and other turkey products.
The average weight of Thanksgiving turkey is 15 pounds which means about 675 million pounds of turkey is consumed in the U.S. on Thanksgiving, according to the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association.
The Butterball survey was conducted Sept. 3- 8. About 30% of the respondents said they would be hosting only immediate family this year. That would be an increase of 18% over last year.
This past Saturday morning, Goebel said he sold two traditionally-sized turkeys to customers who planned only a husband and wife Thanksgiving.
The AAA has said Thanksgiving travel is expected to be down this year.
So if gatherings are smaller and fewer people are traveling to family Thanksgiving dinners why the interest in traditional and larger turkeys this year?
Confidence in cooking the turkey is one reason, Breeding said.
The coronavirus has meant more people were staying home from social events and dining and many cooked more, Breeding said.
Leftovers is another season.
Anderson has always made a traditional-sized turkey whether or not she has a large gathering because she wants the leftovers.
“Leftovers are at a premium more than ever,” Breeding said.
A traditional large turkey with a smaller gathering would mean more leftovers.
The top five most popular ways to serve leftover Thanksgiving turkey are: sandwiches, soups or stews, salads, casseroles and stir-fry, according to the Minnesota Turkey Growers.
Americans will consume about 16 pounds of turkey each year which is about the size of a traditional Thanksgiving bird. But if more people prepare a turkey this year, they could be eating more turkey in 2020.
Breeding said the National Turkey Federation hopes the interest in preparing turkey in 2020 carries into 2021 and beyond.
The organization has various social media posts about preparing turkey and turkey dishes. The information is appropriate for beginners as well as veteran cooks, Breeding said.
The interest in home preparation of turkey for Thanksgiving this year has not translated in any overall increase in demand, she said.
“We took into account that restaurants aren’t serving (as many) turkey dinners,” Breeding said of evaluating this year’s demand. “We anticipate that demand will be pretty steady (with 2019).”
Turkey growers in the U.S. produced about 229 million birds in 2019. Minnesota turkey growers have 450 turkey growers who are expected to raise 40 million to 42 million birds this year, according to the association. That’s about 10 million more than second place North Carolina. Iowa raises about 11 million birds while South Dakota produces about 5 million.
Anderson said some Minnesota producers were able to adjust to providing more smaller turkeys, that’s not possible for most producers, Breeding said.
“It’s really difficult to adjust the growth schedule of a turkey,” Breeding said.
Although the association does not expect hitches in the supply chain this year, it did recommend that people shop early if they were looking for a specific cut or size of a turkey, Breeding said.
Still, while shopping in Washington, D.C. over the weekend, Breeding noticed a lot of available turkey breast and similar sized turkey products, she said.