Thanksgiving turkeys may be harder to come by this year

5

What’s Thanksgiving without a juicy, fresh turkey? More Americans may soon find out.

Meat producers and distributors are sounding the alarm over a turkey shortage that has supermarkets and other food retailers scrambling to get ready for the holiday, The Post has learned.

The shortfall is expected to mainly affect fresh turkeys and birds under 16 pounds, which tend to be the most popular, sources said.

Extra large, frozen birds will be easier to find, sources explained. But they’re labor intensive for cooks, and therefore less desirable. To properly defrost a 20 pound bird, for example, can take up to six days.

“The news is not promising,” a broker for Shady Brook Farms, one of the nation’s largest turkey suppliers, warned in a July 26 letter about the “status of fresh, whole turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

Supermarket chain Morton Williams will have fresh (unfrozen) turkeys available “sporadically.”
Getty Images

“The industry continues to struggle with production issues,” said the letter to retailers and distributors, according to a food seller who received it.

Indeed, turkey farmers have been struggling from waning production for years due to slowing demand, experts say. And their woes were only exacerbated by the pandemic, which simultaneously reduced labor and increased costs.

“Turkey is such a seasonal item, dominated by the Thanksgiving market,” explained David Anderson, a professor of agriculture economics at Texas A & M University. “We can build up supplies with frozen turkeys for the Thanksgiving market, but fresh turkeys have a tighter schedule. The eggs have to hatch at a certain time.”

As many turkey producers were trying to decide how many birds to hatch for this year’s holiday season, corn prices began ticking up, forcing many farmers to pull back on their supply for fear that the investment would not pay off, experts said.

Friends gather around a freshly cooked turkey
Some Thanksgiving hosts will have to plan ahead to give frozen turkeys as many as six days to defrost.
Getty Images

Now, just three months before a holiday centered on a roast turkey dinner, supermarkets are seeing their turkey orders slashed by as much as 50 percent.

“Shady Brook told us they could only give us 50 percent of the turkeys we need and want for the holidays,” Stew Leonard, who owns the eponymous grocery chain, told The Post.

The Morton Williams grocery chain was recently informed by its vendors that it won’t get any birds weighing less than 16 pounds. The most popular turkey is 14 pounds.

Fresh birds will be “sporadically” available, according to Morton Williams’ meat buyer, Victor Colello. 

“You can get whatever you want if it’s a 20-pound turkey,” Colello said, who is predicting some unhappy customers.

A table with a golden brown turkey, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes and stuffing
Petite fresh turkeys like this one will be harder to find for some shoppers.
Getty Images

“I’m frustrated that we won’t get the most popular size bird. It’s just another hurdle we have to jump over. I’ll probably have to break down some of the larger turkeys, to give people the parts they want,” he said.

A spokesman for Cargill, which owns Shady Brook Farms, acknowledged the shortage, saying it is the result of “continuing to manage tight labor markets while working to keep employees safe from the impacts of COVID-19 in the communities where they operate.”

“It is important to note,” the company added, “that the overall frozen bird production remains the same compared to previous years though average bird weights are slightly higher for both fresh and frozen birds due processing delays.”

Larger turkeys are more readily available because the birds have been growing faster than the producers can process them, explained to Daniel Romanoff, president of Bronx-based meat distributor Nebraskaland.

“It’s a very precise schedule to get the turkey to the size of 14 pounds or less,” Romanoff said. “And the plants weren’t able to keep up with that size.”

An aluminum container container with leftover turkey
Chances are, cooks will have more leftovers this year as they will be forced to buy bigger birds.
Getty Images

The shortage has some retailers turning to smaller turkey producers, like Jaindl Farms of Allentown, Pa.

Our customers are having trouble getting their Thanksgiving commitments from their vendors and are coming to us,” said owner David Jaindl, who says he’s been fielding calls from frantic customers over the past couple of months.

Stew Leonard’s, for example, was able to make up for its smaller Shady Brook shipment this year by turning to Jaindl, whose all natural turkeys are generally more expensive than the mass-produced turkeys by Cargill-owned Shady Brook and other large companies.

Jaindl’s farm controls all aspects of the process from growing the corn used to feed the turkeys to processing them, which has allowed him to manage his costs better and to actually increase his supply of turkeys this year, he told The Post.

The biggest cost of growing a turkey is feeding it,” Jaindl said, “And I think the cost of corn discouraged the big companies from hatching turkeys.”

View original post