Worker shortages, a lack of truckers, and shifting demand could all threaten the main course at Thanksgiving dinner this year, as turkey giant Butterball warns that smaller birds may be more difficult to find.
Butterball executive Rebeca Welch said that, similar to last year, many families are planning smaller gatherings next month due to pandemic concerns, sending demand for smaller birds up.
‘We did see that about a third of consumers are planning to have a smaller gathering this year due to concerns about COVID-19 and the Delta variant,’ Welch told WLS-TV, warning consumers who want smaller turkeys to put orders in early.
It came days after US regulators recalled 14,107 pounds of Butterball ground turkey products that may be contaminated with shards of blue plastic, raising further concerns about supplies.
Butterball executive Rebeca Welch said that, similar to last year, many families are planning smaller Thanksgiving gatherings, sending demand for smaller birds up
Frozen turkeys are pictured in a Manhattan freezer case last November. Labor shortages and shifting demand are raising fears of a turkey shortage this year
The recall order affects certain packages of Butterball and Kroger store brand ground turkey with establishment number ‘EST. P-7345’ inside the USDA mark of inspection.
Meanwhile, turkey farmers say that the national labor shortage is impacting production, limiting capacity in processing and transport.
‘I’ve been real worried about getting temporary help for the dressing season,’ Robert Kauffman, a turkey farmer in Waterman, Illinois, told WBBM-TV.
He usually brings in about 100 temporary workers for Thanksgiving, but that right now, he has seven.
‘I can dress with a skeleton crew but I don’t like to. And I won’t get the numbers I need. If I have a nice full dressing line, we can do maybe 2,500 birds a day. The pace I like to have,’ said Kauffman, who raises about 60,000 turkeys a year.
However, consumer advocacy group Consumer Reports insists that there is no turkey shortage, but warns it may be best to place orders early.
A recall affects certain packages of Butterball and Kroger store brand ground turkey with establishment number ‘EST. P-7345’ inside the USDA mark
‘While the production of fresh turkeys is expected to be down 1.4 percent compared with November 2020, a spokesperson from the Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that calling this a turkey shortage is an overstatement,’ the group wrote.
‘You might have a harder time finding a fresh turkey smaller than 16 pounds because demand is up due to smaller holiday gatherings,’ it added. ‘But frozen turkeys in all sizes will be in abundance.’
Grocery analyst Phil Lempert told the group that consumers will likely pay 10 to 15 percent more for turkeys this year, and all other meat products for that matter.
The latest inflation data, which does not break out turkey as a separate category, showed that poultry prices rose 6.1 percent in the 12 months leading up to September.
Turkeys are seen at a farm in Johnston, Massachusetts in a file photo. Turkey farmers say that the national labor shortage is impacting production
Overall, prices for meats, poultry and fish rose 10.4 percent.
The fears of a turkey shortage come as supply chain chaos spurs sporadic shortages and empty shelves across the country.
Because the nation’s turkey supply is produced domestically, it is not vulnerable to the backlogs that have engulfed major US ports.
However, the critical shortage of truckers could impact supplies, if there delays in moving turkeys to markets.