Looking for a small Thanksgiving turkey? Good luck …

Americans appreciate colossal turkeys for Thanksgiving — huge, splendid beasts that make the table moan.

Butcher Jered Standing can attest to that. Among his Christmas memories of working in the Whole Foods meat department: putting a headlamp, hopping on a refrigerated trailer, and digging through piles of 28- to 30-pound turkeys, what he calls “dinosaur turkeys,” to satisfy to shoppers looking for the fattest birds.

But Thanksgiving gatherings will be smaller this year, and turkeys are shrinking in size too. That is affecting the entire supply chain as consumers, butchers, meat suppliers, grocers and chefs struggle to secure lean birds for the holiday, when they eat a staggering 46 million. In many cases, it is already too late: the little ones were already bought a long time ago.

Nine out of 10 people want the little birds, ”said Standing, who now owns Standing’s Butchery in Hollywood. “I tried to get more, people call every day. They are simply not available. “

“We stick with the bigger ones,” said Yasser Elhawary of LA Fresh Poultry on Virgil Avenue. “A lot of people don’t buy them because they are not small enough. I’m trying to tell them that you can use it for reheating — and you can always make turkey breast sandwiches. “

To prevent their turkeys from becoming giants, farms that raise turkeys, as they are known during their young age, euthanized them weeks earlier than usual this year. Supermarkets have been adjusting their inventory to transport birds of more modest proportions. Butchers are shredding oversized turkeys and selling them in parts. And instead of whole-piece dinners for large parties, restaurants offer Thanksgiving take-out for two; some are serving chicken or duck instead.

In pre-pandemic times, turkeys at Tara Firma Farms in Petaluma gorge on grass, insects and fruit in the depths of fall, free to inflate uncontrollably. This was not the case in 2020, when they were frequently weighed with a view to keeping most in the 10-15 pound range. The first batch of birds was processed on October 26, as soon as they reached the desired weight.

“Very few people wanted an 18 to 20 pound turkey,” said business manager Isabel Squire. “We typically process all of our turkeys the week before Thanksgiving to keep them fresh. Unfortunately, because we need to be so specific about our size this year, the birds are going to be a bit frozen. “

Only 40% of turkeys sold this month at Gelson’s have exceeded 16 pounds, up from 80% in a typical November, said Paul Kneeland, vice president of fresh operations at the grocery store chain.

“We’ve seen a significant change from 10 to 16,” he said. “We had to get more, because our advance orders for smaller birds increased so much.”

With COVID-19 cases increasing across the country and officials urging people to celebrate with only immediate family, 70% of Americans are planning a Thanksgiving gathering with fewer than six people, according to Nielsen. That compared to 48% in 2019.

A general rule of thumb is 1 to 1.5 pounds of turkey meat per person, which means that even a relatively skinny 10-pound weight will be too big for many gatherings. So individual pieces are sold, as well as whole birds.

“This was the first year that I sold parts, which is not something I would normally do; I want the turkeys to come in whole and go whole because it’s much, much easier, ”said Standing. “But this time I asked for some big birds that we could cut and sell for their breasts and legs.”

At Butterball, a spokeswoman said the turkey brand in recent months “increased production” of several items, including boneless and boneless breast, to accommodate smaller groups.

Restaurants offering pieces have been in high demand. At All Day Baby, the two-pound individually smoked legs ($ 19 per leg, intended to serve one or two people) sold out days earlier than the $ 130 whole smoked turkey, for six to eight people. Co-owner Lien Ta began maintaining a waiting list, which had 32 names when she was able to secure more legs for Wednesday.

That was also the case at Yang’s Kitchen in the Alhambra, which quickly ran out of its Thanksgiving turkey leg dinners and was waiting to find out how many more pieces it could get from its suppliers.

“We may be able to offer additional dinners with a whole roast chicken sandwich instead of the turkey legs,” the restaurant announced in an Instagram story on Monday.

Turkeys reserved for Thanksgiving are typically hatched during the summer, and retail customers make purchasing decisions months in advance. Those who correctly predicted the smaller Christmas gatherings during the pandemic era had a better chance of being able to adjust their orders accordingly.

Gelson’s reached out to its regular turkey suppliers Pitman Family Farms and Diestel Family Ranch in June, increasing its regular holiday order for small turkeys by 30%.

Two months later, when it became clear that the pandemic was nowhere near being under control, the Encino company called the farms and asked for more turkeys and an even larger proportion of small turkeys. It also increased its inventory per piece, doubling the amount of display space in the poultry sections at the 27 Southern California supermarkets to make room, Kneeland explained.

How different this year’s Thanksgiving celebrations will be, from previous years, is a matter of speculation. Two-thirds of Americans plan to celebrate in their own homes, up from 48% on average over the past three years, according to market research firm NPD Group. Some economists and farmers worry that reduced meetings and tight personal finances could lead to lower sales for the US poultry industry of $ 4.3 billion.

Others predict that there might actually be more turkeys sold, as a result of “more Thanksgiving tables, but fewer people around them,” said Darren Seifer, NPD’s food and beverage industry analyst. Supermarket giant Kroger is betting that way, stocking more Thanksgiving birds at Ralphs and its other supermarket chains, a spokeswoman reported. Gelson estimates he will sell 30% to 40% more Thanksgiving turkeys than he did last year, when he sold 12,500.

A trend almost everyone agrees on: With so many people staying home, next Thursday will see new Thanksgiving hosts, many of whom will not want – or know – how to cook a banquet that classically contains a great variety of dishes.

To attract nervous potential cooks, Whole Foods got creative. Last week, the network announced that it had partnered with insurance company Progressive to offer a “Thanksgiving Protection Plan.” Those who buy and take home a store-brand turkey before Sunday and commit a failure to cook the turkey — such as an undercooked, overcooked, or burnt bird — would be eligible to file a claim; the first 1,000 to do so will receive a $ 35 gift card.

Restaurants, which have been battered by months of indoor eating restrictions and other strict measures, also see an opportunity to step in and help.

“We had to do something just to generate income and keep the business afloat,” said Michael Cimarusti, chef and co-owner of Providence on Melrose Avenue. “It’s as simple as that.”

The fine dining restaurant is offering Thanksgiving take-out for the first time. The smallest option, designed to feed two or three, sold out so quickly that Cimarusti called his butcher expecting 50 more bucks.

“I was only 15,” he commented. “If you have organically raised 12-14 pound turkeys and want to sell them to Michael in Providence, you need to reach out. This is an order for 35 more bucks. “

Some restaurants don’t even bother with the turkey and choose to sell takeout meals with naturally smaller birds, or no birds. Downtown, Orsa & Winston is hosting a Thanksgiving Duck Dinner for just two people; Manuela’s $ 100 Thanksgiving Dinner for 2 “comes with a choice of turkey, ham or veggie pie.

In San Francisco, Birdsong also saw high demand for its small group option.

“We are doing formats for two, four and six people, and the two has been the most popular,” which represents 70% of the orders, commented chef and co-owner Chris Bleidorn. “It looks like it’s going to be a very personal Thanksgiving, as a couple.”

That won’t be true for everyone. Some farms said they were still responding to many requests for large turkeys.

“I just received an order for turkeys 26-28 pounds. So how many people do you think are getting together? ”Said Linda Gile, manager of the Willie Bird Turkeys store in Santa Rosa. “People are doing what they want to do. It’s worrying, isn’t it?

And while his days with huge turkeys in grocery stores are long gone, Standing will also have at least one giant to deal with next week.

“A regular customer asked for a large bird this year, the same way she did last year,” he said. “She wanted the ‘big mob boss’ of the turkeys.”

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