Without big gatherings, will Americans buy whole birds? Smaller ones? Just parts? Farmers and retailers are already placing their bets.
Cooks around the country are just starting to calculate menus and decide how many guests they can safely host for Thanksgiving. But for months, the people who grow and sell the centerpiece of the meal have been doing their own kind of turkey math.
Just how many whole turkeys will Americans cook this year for a holiday whose wings have been clipped by the pandemic?
“That’s the big question on the tip of everybody’s tongue,” said Stew Leonard Jr., who expects to sell 20 percent fewer big turkeys at the seven stores his family owns in the Northeast.
All indications are that the holiday gatherings that used to bring together dozens of people to share one or two turkeys will be scuttled in favor of smaller celebrations. That could lead to a run on small turkeys, a higher-than-usual demand for parts like whole breasts, and higher prices across the board. And although no turkey farmer likes to hear this, some cooks may simply decide to go all in on a big chicken.
Nearly 70 percent of Americans plan to celebrate Thanksgiving differently this year, according to a consumer survey released last month by the Chicago-based market research firm Numerator. The revised plans are motivated in no small part by new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommend skipping holiday travel and limiting Thanksgiving celebrations to people living in the same household.
Consumer research from both Butterball and Hormel Foods, which together sell most of the more than 40 million whole turkeys that are eaten for Thanksgiving, suggests that big gatherings will be broken into several smaller ones, most of which will still center on turkey…
The marketing team at Jennie-O, based in Minnesota, are preparing for a flood of first-time turkey cooks by promoting a whole turkey specifically processed to go straight from the freezer to the oven. They’ve also designed a media campaign based on smaller gatherings where less turkey will be consumed.
“Our messaging needs to be that no matter what size bird you get, there are great leftover recipes,” said Nicole Behne, vice president of marketing for the brand.