Thanksgiving in a pandemic means smaller birds, fewer leftovers

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This year’s Thanksgiving celebrations are shaping up to be a little more sophisticated, a little more expensive, and a lot smaller than usual.

Many people plan to avoid travel and congregate in smaller numbers as Covid-19 cases reach new heights. Grocers are preparing to sell smaller turkeys and lesser amounts of side dishes. Food manufacturers, meanwhile, are catering to new Thanksgiving chefs, and restaurants are touting take-out parties for those who prefer not to cook. Here’s what to expect when cooking your holiday dinner.

Small turkeys

This year’s Thanksgiving celebrations are shaping up to be a little more sophisticated, a little more expensive, and a lot smaller than usual. (iStock)

Fewer guests around the table means less meat. This year, grocers are stocking smaller turkeys – 12 to 14 pounds in some cases rather than 16 to 20 pounds – and hams.

Raley’s Inc., a chain of 130 grocery stores in California, has bought as many smaller frozen turkeys as it did months ago in anticipation of the Thanksgiving pandemic. It may not yet be enough. “Everyone will get a bird if they want it, but it may not be the size they want,” said Keith Knopf, managing director.

Turkish supplier Cargill Inc. said it was too early to say whether consumer demand would change in the future. Because retailers were buying birds at the start of the calendar year, the quantity, size of turkeys, and prices were locked in before the pandemic.

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Other grocers sell chickens, turkey breasts, and other cuts that are easier to cook for first-timers. Distributor Gordon Food Service Inc.’s brick and mortar stores are offering bone-in, six-pound turkey breasts for the first time.

Jagtar Nijjar, director of imports and commodities at Gordon Food, said retailers are also ordering boneless turkey breasts that people can roast. Since few customers buy larger birds, they will be cut into deli meats, he says.

Grocers also sell pre-cooked holiday meals designed for small gatherings. Save Mart Cos., Which operates more than 200 grocery stores in California and Nevada, sells ready-to-eat turkey and ham dishes for two, said Trey Johnson, the grocer’s merchandising and supply chain manager. .

Buy this canned pumpkin – now

Shoppers search for items at a Costco Wholesale store in Colchester, Vermont. . (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images)

America’s food supply chain has struggled for most of this year as people buy more food and cook more at home. Cooking ingredients, soup, canned vegetables and frozen meat are scarce during the holidays.

Grocery stores introduced Thanksgiving foods earlier than usual this year, hoping to spread demand in the weeks leading up to the holidays. New Seasons Market, a chain of more than 20 stores in the Pacific Northwest, got three times as many frozen turkeys as last year and started selling holiday items in October.

Manufacturers are making high-demand items in larger quantities, including flour, canned goods, paper napkins, and aluminum pie trays.

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“Retailers want a little more inventory, and they want it a little sooner,” said Ken Romanzi, general manager of B&G Foods Inc. The company, which owns Green Giant vegetables, expects stocks are holding up much better than in the spring. “This is the time of the year for canned vegetables. This is it, ”he said.

Another large vegetable cannery, Del Monte Foods Inc., said sales were already significantly higher than a normal Thanksgiving period. “We expanded our growth regions, we added production changes,” said Greg Longstreet, CEO of Del Monte. ” We are ready. “

What you will pay

Food manufacturers say they cannot justify discounts when demand already exceeds their production capacity. (AP Photo / Lynne Sladky)

Tight supplies and growing demand mean higher prices and fewer discounts.

The cost of a typical Thanksgiving meal is up 3.7% from a year ago to about $ 55.27, according to Nielsen. Normally, foods, including Thanksgiving items, increase 1% to 2% each year, according to Nielsen data.

Food manufacturers say they cannot justify discounts when demand already exceeds their production capacity. Executives say their operating costs increased during the pandemic, with the purchase of protective equipment for factory workers, payment for employees on sick leave, and higher prices for commodities and the transport.

B&R Stores Inc. is not offering discounts on boneless hams and cream of mushroom soups this year because stocks are tight, said Mark Griffin, its president. The Lincoln, New Brunswick-based grocer, which has about 20 stores, plans to list bone-in hams instead. “We generally had huge displays” of items on sale, Griffin said. “This year we are not. ”

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Turkeys are more expensive this year in part because of production cuts prior to the pandemic. After reviewing its operations last year, Cargill ceased production of fresh and frozen whole turkeys at a plant in Texas that processed 27,000 turkeys per day.

“This put pressure on prices,” said Mr. Nijjar of Gordon Food Service. Wholesale turkey prices are up 15% from a year ago to around $ 1.25 a pound, he added.

In some cases, retailers have turned to niche vendors making premium cranberry relish or organic pie filling to fill gaps in their shelves, which is also driving up prices.

Meal kits to the rescue

The cost of a typical Thanksgiving meal is up 3.7% from a year ago to about $ 55.27, according to Nielsen. (iStock)

Food companies like Conagra Brands Inc. and General Mills Inc. expect new chefs to try more elaborate casseroles, side dishes and desserts because they won’t be traveling to relatives.

“You’re ready to cook this year,” said Jeanine Bassett, vice president of market research at General Mills. “America has qualified in the kitchen. ”

Susan Izzo, a nurse practitioner in Vernon, Connecticut, said she didn’t feel comfortable going to her in-laws on Thanksgiving Day. Instead, she plans to cook lunch for her husband and 8-year-old twins.

“For the first time in my life, I’m going to have to learn how to cook a turkey,” she says. “We’re going to pull out the sheets and eat at the dining room table that has been covered in my daughters homework.

Meal kit company Blue Apron Holdings Inc. is showcasing a Thanksgiving kitchen kit that feeds up to eight people for $ 135. People can also order an additional pair of side dishes, braised collard greens with mushrooms and roasted carrots in ginger syrup, for $ 26.

Turkey to go

Some restaurants say they receive more orders than usual for their take-out meals. (iStock)

Restaurants are hoping for a Thanksgiving bump to help their struggling businesses. Some say they are getting more orders than usual for their take out meals.

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, owned by Landry’s Inc., sells a turkey dinner for two to four people for $ 175 to $ 250. Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, owned by Ruth’s Hospitality Group Inc., sells a Thanksgiving meal to go, with half a roasted turkey breast and sides, for $ 165 for four. The company is marketing it to loyal customers, hoping to make up for the loss of activity in its dining rooms this year.

For a less expensive treat, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. sells a meal of breaded and fried turkey fillets and side dishes for $ 40 to feed three to five people.

Less leftovers

Traditional Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving holiday. (iStock)

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Small Thanksgiving meals this year will likely produce less leftovers, said Bob Nolan, who leads consumer analytics and analytics for Conagra Brands Inc., the maker of Healthy Choice frozen meals, Birds Eye frozen vegetables and Marie pies. Callender.

“When you have a bigger rally, you create a bigger margin for error,” he said. “This year there will be less variety and people will have less leftovers. ”

–Jacob Bunge contributed to this article.

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