How the pandemic shook up this year’s turkey market

This turkey market was shaken up this year with a pivot toward smaller birds.


November 24, 2020

Butterball — the 80-year-old food brand that sells 1 in 3 turkeys in America — will probably have the busiest phone line in the US this week.

According to Marker, its Turkey Talk Line (a free hotline staffed by 51 chefs, dietitians, and food stylists) is expected to field 100k+ inquiries from Thanksgiving newbs, including questions on how to deep-fry a turkey outdoors.

The calls are pretty standard fare for Butterball — but 2020 has been a very atypical year for the turkey market at large.

Americans eat about 40m turkeys during Thanksgiving

More than half of all turkeys sold over the course of the year in the US will be eaten this week, according to The Economist.

With social distancing measures in place, the biggest change in 2020 is the size of the bird. Smaller gatherings mean greater demand for smaller turkeys (known as hens; ~10lbs.) as compared with larger turkeys (Toms; 15-25lbs.).

But there’s a tiny problem: While demand for smaller turkeys is up, farmers have been culling their supply of hens since 2018.

It’s hard to pivot turkeys

Retailers order turkeys months in advance for Thanksgiving — and it’s been hard for them to provide an adequate supply of smaller birds.

Turkeys are an important loss leader, and grocers are doing everything they can to find alternatives to get people into their stores.

Per The Economist, Walmart has adapted by upping its turkey breast offering by 20-30%, while Kroger is upping its game with ham, beef, pork roast, and vegetarian options.

COVID nearly shut turkey production down

Butterball (~$1.5B annual revenue) operates 6 plants and has a force of 7k+ employees who work in very close quarters on the production line per Marker.

In March, there was very real concern from management that the plants would have to close up for the holidays. Butterball persisted, even as some employees expressed concerns over working conditions.

All things considered, Butterball is as prepared as it can be for Thanksgiving.

And if you’re wondering what to do with the inevitable leftovers, they have 70+ recipes just for you (the “Artichoke Turkey Noodle Bake” hits the hardest).

Daily briefings, straight to your inbox

Business and tech news in 5 minutes or less

Join over 1 million people who read The Hustle

Psst

How'd Bezos build a billion dollar empire?

In 1994, Jeff Bezos discovered a shocking stat: Internet usage grew 2,300% per year.

Data shows where markets are headed.

And that’s why we built Trends — to show you up-and-coming market opportunities about to explode. Interested?

Join us, it's free.

Look, you came to this site because you saw something cool. But here’s the deal. This site is actually a daily email that covers the important news in business, tech, and culture.

So, if you like what you’re reading, give the email a try.

If you don’t like it, unsubscribe any time. Privacy policy.