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Demand for smaller turkeys expected to increase this year

Many families intend on a smaller Thanksgiving gathering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and experts said that means they'll be looking for smaller turkeys.

COLORADO, USA — Grocery stores and industry experts said your Thanksgiving turkey may be smaller this year and may not even include a whole bird. 

Fewer people at Thanksgiving tables due to social distancing measures because of the COVID-19 pandemic means a lot of families will be hunting for smaller turkeys.

"We are anticipating that the holidays will look very different this year for many families, with 43% of shoppers stating that they plan to celebrate Thanksgiving at home with only those in their immediate household," said Jessica Trowbridge, a spokesperson for King Soopers.

Dawn Thilmany, co-director of Colorado State University's (CSU) Regional Economic Institute, said indeed, holiday dinners will more than likely shrink. 

"I think you're going to see a lot more just plain breast out for people to buy, or turkey parts," said Thilmany.

The one problem for shoppers, however, is that processors may not be able to deliver on a large demand for downsized birds.   

"COVID-19 caused delays at processing plants, impacting the availability of smaller turkeys," said Trowbridge. 

She said King Soopers is sourcing all kinds of turkeys, including turkey breasts, to accommodate for more intimate gatherings.

CSU's Thilmany said another problem is that breeders selected the gender of their turkeys months ago, which puts them in a tough spot. It's not something that can be easily changed to accommodate a market shift.

"The problem is that hens, which are the females, are the birds that are generally smaller," Thilmany explained. "They chose the genetics of these birds a year ago."

So what can producers do to deliver the smaller turkey's consumers will be hunting?

"They can bring it off-of-feed or feed it less to slow it down," Thilmany said. 

But she said she doubts suppliers have been able to pivot quickly enough. She advised consumers to look for specials on the bigger birds.

"If you think about what a typical grocery store does, they get you in there with the $4.00 bird," Thilmany said. "They want you spending on the pumpkin pie filling and the stuffing and all that." 

So she said she expects many consumers to take the deal — and deal with the leftovers.

"If they decide to just keep it cost effective, and then people decide if they really still will use a 20-pound bird, and even if they are feeding less people, they can turn it into a turkey soup and then freeze it and so forth," Thilmany said. "So I think we might see smaller birds, but people are going to realize they're not going to save money doing it, so they might go back to just getting the bird they were going to do and just have more leftovers."

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