• Demand for “hens,” smaller, female turkeys, is outstripping demand for “toms,” larger turkeys, as families plan smaller, coronavirus-conscious Thanksgiving meals. 
  • But the trend spells a problem for supermarkets, who placed orders for big Thanksgiving turkeys last January, industry analyst Anne-Marie Roerink told Business Insider.
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Consumers looking to plan coronavirus-conscious, scaled-down Thanksgivings are looking for smaller turkeys this year. But those searching for slimmer birds might have a problem since supermarkets are already stocked with big ones, says grocery analyst Anne-Marie Roerink, President of 210 Analytics.

“A large number of people who would normally be hosting extended family dinners are now only celebrating with the immediate family,” said Roerink in an interview with Business Insider. The median number of people at the Thanksgiving table will be only five this year, down from eight in 2019, according to a survey by IRI.

With fewer people at the table comes a smaller meal. The same survey also found that one third of people expect to spend less on groceries this year, and 22% of those who plan to spend less will buy a smaller turkey. Meanwhile, demand for “toms,” male turkeys which weigh 16-24 pounds, is being outstripped by demand for “hens,” their female counterparts, which weigh 8-16 pounds, according to a new report from the USDA.

Roerink says that supermarkets are having a tough time accommodating these new preferences, since they lock in their holiday orders nearly a year in advance, and base their orders on previous Thanksgiving trends, which have increasingly favored bigger birds. With large turkeys already grown, slaughtered, and frozen, retailers can’t change their holiday poultry stock on the fly, Roerink says.

“Stores put in their orders for turkeys nearly a year out, in like January of the year that Thanksgiving happens, then the farmers buy the chicks from there to raised. So there’s really nothing that can be done at this point in time,” said Roerink. “The process was put in place before the pandemic was on anybody’s radar.”

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Some stores have turned to cutting up turkeys as a possible solution. In anticipation of a preference for smaller turkeys, Walmart increased their offerings of bone-in and boneless turkey breasts by 20-30%, the company announced in October.

Meanwhile, some holiday shoppers will turn to buying cuts like turkey tenderloin, Roerink says, or might switch to another meat altogether, like beef. Others will just buy a big turkey anyway, and eat leftovers, she says.  

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