ALL NEWS

Big turkeys are back for an IRL Thanksgiving

Nov 3, 2021, 1:15 PM
Turkeys are seen at a farm in Orefield, Pennsylvania, on November 20, 2020, ahead of the Thanksgivi...
Turkeys are seen at a farm in Orefield, Pennsylvania, on November 20, 2020, ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. (Photo by Kena Betancur / AFP) (Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

   (CNN) — Thanksgiving 2021 may feel a lot more like a normal holiday than last year’s — many Americans have been vaccinated, and restrictions have eased across the country.

And that means bigger turkeys are back, too.

Grocery chains and retail analysts are expecting people to have bigger gatherings than last year. So they’re stocking up on larger turkeys — 18 to 24 pounds — in a shift from last year’s smaller ones of 12 to 14 pounds.

“Everybody is expecting big gatherings and bigger birds,” said Chris DuBois, senior vice president for protein practice at IRI, who consults with grocers on their meat strategies. Turkeys take around 26 weeks to grow, he said, so companies place their orders for turkeys from suppliers early in the year. This year, grocers forecast Thanksgiving turkey orders with the “anticipation that [Covid-19] might be on its way out. The Delta variant wasn’t even there.”

Bristol Farms, a California chain of grocery stores, ordered its turkeys in February and March, when it was “banking on a return to normal,” said Steve Howard, the vice president of merchandising. Last year, Bristol Farms had around a five-to-one ratio of fresh small birds — those that weigh 12 pounds — to bigger ones, which weigh 18 pounds and above. That’s reversed this year.

“We’re going to lean back into a larger bird,” he said. “We expect a strong season as families again get together in larger groups.” The company is also planning for larger orders of prepared sides like stuffing and potatoes.

Sam’s Club is offering the same size range of turkeys as it did last year — ten to 24-pound birds— but it plans to stock more of the heavier, 18-pound turkeys and above this year. Sam’s Club also last year slimmed down the sizes of sides such as mashed sweet potatoes in anticipation of smaller gatherings. This year, most sides have moved back to their larger, pre-pandemic portions.

“Our members told us [they’re] ready to celebrate the holidays in a big way,” said Erin Hulliberger, a spokesperson for the warehouse club, in an email.

Kroger surveyed 400 of its shoppers from April 6 to April 12, when its teams began planning for Thanksgiving, and found that 42% anticipated gathering with more people compared to last year, a spokesperson said in an email. The company is also expecting more people to trade up to more expensive turkeys this year and buy additional options such as bone-in breast turkey, so Kroger is stocking up on premium turkeys and specialty items.

The complicated business of setting turkey sizes

Turkey sizes generally align with their age at slaughter, explained Brock Stein, president of the Tamaqua, Pennsylvania-based Koch’s Turkey Farm, which sells to premium grocery stores.

To make a turkey heavier, farmers generally let it live longer, Stein said. The opposite goes for a lighter turkey.

Koch’s tries to offer a range of sizes, between about 10 to 30 pounds in two pound increments, for options that come in 10, 12, 14 pounds and so on.

“You’re looking at 18 to 20 weeks old, probably for a larger size,” he said. Generally, he noted, people serve a pound per person, so anything larger than that would likely be too much for a typical consumer.

At Koch’s, growing season starts around June. But orders generally don’t start coming in until October. That means that if demand is different from Koch’s forecasts, the team has to make “on-the-fly” adjustments, like to slaughter schedules, he said. Another trick is to adjust the turkeys’ diets.

“We don’t use any growth hormones or steroids or anything like that since we’re all natural and organic,” he said. So when it comes to diet, “our only tool in our toolbox is changing some formula of the diet between wheat, soybean and corn,” he explained. But often, “you have to deal with what you’re dealt. You can’t totally change mother nature.”

Another unpredictable factor that impacts turkey size? Weather.

Birds put on weight when it’s cold, and stay slimmer when it’s hot, Stein said.

“If there’s a cold spell and the birds on average are weighing too much, you can sort of move up the timeline,” he said. It’s harder when the temperature spikes. Koch’s can delay slaughter up to a point, but it “can’t wait until it’s too late because we have to make our deliveries,” he said.

Sometimes, a turkey’s size is decided by logistics. Cargill, which offers turkey through the Honeysuckle White, Shady Brook and Honest Turkey brands, is selling slightly larger birds this season. But that has nothing to do with deliberate planning to meet demand. Instead, the larger size is actually the result of another unexpected factor: supply chain disruptions.

This year, “average bird weights are slightly higher for both fresh and frozen birds due [to] processing delays,” said Daniel Sullivan, a spokesperson for the company, in an email. “The larger birds are the result of birds being on feed longer than is typical.”

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

Today’s Top Stories

All News

Great Salt Lake State Park and Marina...
Mark Jones

How much will it take to save the Great Salt Lake?

A bipartisan bill was passed in the U.S. Senate aimed at giving funding toward the study of The Great Salt Lake and other saline lakes in the west.
1 day ago
goblin mode...
Christian Edwards, CNN

‘Goblin mode’ chosen as Oxford word of the year for 2022

According to OUP, the term refers to a behavior which is "self-indulgent, lazy, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations."
1 day ago
free national park...
Aimee Cobabe

Lawsuit against Arches National Park after incident resulting in the death of a woman

A trial is underway after a woman was decapitated at Arches National Park. Her family alleges the park was negligent in not securing a gate that killed her.
1 day ago
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 19:  The U.S. Capitol is shown as a looming government shutdown threatens ...
Manu Raju and Phil Mattingly, CNN

Defense bill likely to include end to military Covid vaccine mandate, source says

A massive bill setting defense policy is likely to end the military Covid vaccine mandate, a source familiar with the negotiations tells CNN.
1 day ago
kindergarten gap year...
Tom Haraldsen

Checking in on the status of full-day kindergarten in Utah

Policy analyst with Voices for Utah Children reveals whether full-day kindergarten could be in the cards for next year.
1 day ago
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 03:  Actress Kirstie Alley attends the "Kirstie" premiere party at Harlow o...
Dan Heching, Amy Simonson and Taylor Romine, CNN

Kirstie Alley, ‘Cheers’ and ‘Veronica’s Closet’ star, dead at 71

Actress Kirstie Alley has died after a brief battle with cancer, her children announced on social media.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 game day snacks for the whole family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...
Sorenson

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
Big turkeys are back for an IRL Thanksgiving