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A very 2020 Thanksgiving: People prepare for a temporary change to their traditions


GALENA–Grocers, butchers, producers and consumers are all facing an unusual holiday season. Typically, the holiday season has people buying a customary turkey and sides.

This year, due to COVID and other factors, many people are scaling back their plans, looking for smaller birds or maybe doing something unique to celebrate.


A smaller bird

“The one thing that we noticed is that the turkeys people are requesting are smaller,” said Dan Weber, co-owner of Weber’s Meats in Cuba City, Wis. “Those turkeys that are 10-12 pounds, 12-14 or 14-16 pounds are all close to being sold out.”

Weber also said that a lot of people are ordering non-traditional meats, such as steak.

“We are seeing more nontraditional and smaller portions,” said Weber.

Tammy Lee, owner of Tammy’s Piggly Wiggly in Galena, said her store has seen birds of all sizes sold and the store is almost out of fresh turkeys. She said that she has not seen a change in people buying different sizes of birds compared to last year.

The National Turkey Federation has experienced an increase in poultry and turkey sales in retail markets throughout the year, but a drop in sales at other food service locations.

“The turkey industry has been all about finding balance and adjusting to what the new normal this year,” said Beth Breeding, vice president of communications and marketing for the National Turkey Federation. “We are optimistic for a strong Thanksgiving holiday. We are already seeing a lot of demand for turkey.”

Breeding said those raising turkeys for restaurants and food service have had a challenging year and dealt with market disruptions.

“Folks that are raising traditional Thanksgiving turkeys have been as busy as ever trying to meet the demand for this year,” said Breeding.

Breeding said the National Turkey Federation realizes there are changes to the traditions, but it is difficult to pinpoint a turkey size and to adjust to that type of demand.

“We certainly heard from folks interested in a smaller turkey or a turkey breast for Thanksgiving,” said Breeding. “We have also heard from many people that are planning to purchase their traditional sized turkey and use it for leftovers or to share it with neighbors. I think we are going to see a strong demand and it will hold that way throughout the holiday season.”

Lee agreed with people using the leftovers for additional meals.

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“People are still buying their typical sized turkey and using it for leftovers,” said Lee.

Breeding said the demand for smaller turkeys this year won’t likely lead to farmers adjusting what they are raising.

“It is difficult to adjust a size of a turkey while you are raising it,” said Breeding. “There may have been some seasonal farmers that were able to slightly adjust, but it wasn’t common.”


Buying more

Lee has noticed more people are using the pre-cooked Thanksgiving dinner option her store offers, and she thinks that’s a result of smaller gatherings and people not wanting to cook a big meal.

Another change Lee and Weber are seeing is people buying more during their shopping visit.

“I have also noticed that people are buying more in a trip so that they aren’t coming back as much,” said Tracy Weber.

“People are definitely stocking up more this week due to the orders that have come out from the state,” said Lee. “We are seeing more canned goods sold as well.”

Another thing the Webers have noticed is with recent uncertainty politically and COVID restrictions, people are starting to stockpile as they did early on in the pandemic.

“We have noticed that recently, especially with hamburger,” said Dan Weber. “Saturday (Nov. 14) we were busy with people from Illinois coming up because of what they had been hearing.”

Weber said he has had more people come in buying 100 pounds or more of meat at a time.

“Right now with suppliers, you have to order early,” said Weber. “You have to order a lot.”

For example, Weber won’t be able to order oysters this year from his supplier and a new law in Wisconsin has limited seafood crossing the state line for resale to add to the limitations for that line of products.

Weber said if everyone buys in moderation there would be more products to go around.