Small Turkeys Are In Demand As Americans Downsize At Thanksgiving

As families across the U.S. scale back on how they traditionally celebrate the holiday, it's been a challenge for turkey producers as they figure out how to adapt to the changing market.

11/22/2020 6:36:00 PM

Families across the U.S. are scaling back on how they traditionally celebrate Thanksgiving this year. That's posed a challenge for farmers, many of whom are struggling to meet requests for smaller turkeys.

As families across the U.S. scale back on how they traditionally celebrate the holiday, it's been a challenge for turkey producers as they figure out how to adapt to the changing market.

Madeline Gray for NPRtoggle captionMadeline Gray for NPRBroad Breasted White turkeys roam their open-air enclosure on the Shenk Family Farm in Newport, N.C. This year all of the approximately 70 turkeys, which will be 14-16 lbs once they are processed, have been reserved for Thanksgiving.

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Madeline Gray for NPRButterball's Turkey Talklineis already up and running. The hotline is staffed by trained experts to help answer any and all turkey-related questions people might have during the holiday season.Like many Americans, Butterball experts Roni McDaniel and her daughter, Coren Hayes, are taking calls from their home office and kitchen table instead of the usual call center. They're noticing a difference in what people are asking about.

"You know, oddly enough, they are looking for smaller turkeys," McDaniel said. They have also noticed an uptick in callers saying it's their first time cooking for Thanksgiving.McDaniel and Hayes are used to working with newbies. Hayes remembers one particularly frazzled caller who only realized he had bought a chicken instead of a turkey on Thanksgiving Day.

"He seemed very sincere, 'How do I cook this and make it seem like a turkey to my guests because I really don't want to mess this up?'"Hayes said. Along with her standard food safety tips like making sure the bird is up to temperature, she also advised the man to come clean with the guests.

Challenging for farmers to make the adjustmentJoe Shenk holds a turkey for his son, Mason, to pet in the open-air enclosure on their farm."They're not very smart, but they make up for that by being really friendly and interesting," Shenk said about the turkeys.

Madeline Gray for NPRtoggle captionMadeline Gray for NPRJoe Shenk holds a turkey for his son, Mason, to pet in the open-air enclosure on their farm."They're not very smart, but they make up for that by being really friendly and interesting," Shenk said about the turkeys.

Madeline Gray for NPRWhile the Butterball Turkey Talkline can answer all types of questions, including how to cook a smaller bird, it doesn't quite offer the solution for farmers, many of whom are finding it challenging to make the adjustment to a trimmer turkey.

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"These are in the pipeline for a long time. It's not something we can just turn on and turn off," said Ron Joyce, president of Joyce Farms in Winston-Salem, N.C.Joyce raises Heritage turkeys, a type of domestic turkey that has historic lineage. He said they committed to raising a specific number of turkeys and their expected size almost a year in advance. His company is also used to selling to chefs at restaurants who often want extra large turkeys.

"There was no crystal ball to tell us that basically 95% of our customer base would be shut down this year," said Joyce.Improve sales for the holidaysJoe and Rachel Shenk hope to add cows in the near future as they continue to farm full-time in Newport, N.C.

Madeline Gray for NPRtoggle captionMadeline Gray for NPRJoe and Rachel Shenk hope to add cows in the near future as they continue to farm full-time in Newport, N.C.Madeline Gray for NPRInstead, he said the company pivoted away from restaurants and seized another opportunity.

"What happened is during the panic, in the rush to buy meat and poultry in the grocery stores, a lot of the grocery store shelves were bare for a while, so we increased our direct to consumer," Joyce said.The average local household has helped them improve sales for the holidays.

Rachel and Joe Shenk are doing well this holiday season. They're sold out for turkeys this year, which didn't even happen last year. And for those customers who requested a smaller bird, the Shenks are helping them get creative."I have to go back and be like, 'Well, would you be OK with a half turkey?'"Rachel said.

She's found most of her customers are content with that even though anything less than a whole turkey is not what most people picture on their Thanksgiving table.It's certainly not the weirdest thing about 2020. Read more: NPR »

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Don’t eat the poor animals ffs turkey farmers be like Cook the big turkeys anyway and donate a meal to an elderly neighbor, or someone who’ll be alone... Buy the big one. Cut it in half, and freeze half for Christmas But the big one. Cut it in half, and freeze half for Christmas. maybe a chicken this year then?

Left over turkey makes excellent sandwiches and nuggets. $10 for a 2-3lb turkey. $8.50 for a 70oz bag of chicken nuggets. $2 for a can of Bush baked beans. $5.77 for the only medium grain rice selling at Wal-Mart. AND rationing has returned, as the food stocks are still too low due to the hoarding in spring.

Does America understand how to eat leftovers C’mon people.... ever hear of a freezer and leftovers...! More 1st world problems being whined about, buy the big turkey and enjoy yourselves...! Only one of my 4 kids likes turkey and she can't be home this year. We're cooking 2 roast chickens and will have soup with the leftovers.

Sell half turkeys. Easier to cook and less waste. Poor things. Left overs are the best part of turkey day! More leftovers, what's not to love? ThanksgivingLeftOvers i can't wait till election season is over so the virus could stop infecting people between the hours of 7am and 10pm I’ve always cooked smaller turkeys. They taste way better and aren’t pumped full of growth hormones. Smaller is better. I hate those big 10+ pound birds. They dry out. So some of us have always cooked smaller.

We’re having lobster! Well too bad! Our consumerism already dictated making them as big as possible, now they want little ones! SMH stupidwhimsofamericans 2020 has almost been “the great reset”. Imagine that, less demand for these overly grown birds, and demand for the size that they actually should be genetically.

I buy from local farmers all year long. But, as a single person, I always buy that smallest anything. Wish there were more smaller things! produces another non-story. We are doing “to go” plates for local friends and families to pick up. Our 15 pounder will be gone in no time! People can always get cornish hens...those are small 'turkeys'

just stop eating turkey!! save a turkey! Thanksgiving in a horrible 'holiday'... Have the butcher cut it in half and freeze the extra half for sometime later. And that's no jiveturkey Come on people! Leftovers are the best part! this is terrible news