Before we know it, the end of harvest will be here (we hope we didn’t just jinx it for everyone), and with that comes the community suppers usually meant as fundraisers. Fall suppers or fowl suppers, whatever you call them, serve not only as the place to say hello to your neighbours, friends, family, and people who live in your community, but also as the major fundraiser for community organizations such as churches or community clubs.
The menu can include anything from traditional roast beef and mashed potatoes, to perogies and cabbage rolls. One of the most prominent spots at the buffet line-up belongs to the turkey, though — and because of COVID-19 restrictions, the pull back in fall suppers and community events will likely hurt whole-bird turkey sales this fall.
Darren Ference, chair of Turkey Farmers of Canada and a turkey farmer in Alberta, says the producer group is hopeful that people will still stick with tradition and enjoy turkey for the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. These two holidays account for over 80 per cent of whole bird consumption in the year, with 39 per cent of sales happening at Thanksgiving and 42 per cent over the Christmas season.
The turkey industry took a hit over the initial COVID-19 pandemic economic shut down. Ference says that the March closure of restaurants, especially sub sandwich shops and deli counters, resulted in a seven per cent decrease in quota allocation earlier this year. Some of that further processing has come back online since then, but whole-bird sales are still largely ahead for the year.
Ference adds that turkey processors experienced similar challenges to other protein processors, with a slowing down in processing to adjust to physical distancing and other health and safety measures, but no processors have closed during the pandemic as of yet.
Several companies have been adapting their product offerings to shift away from whole birds, into smaller cuts and roasts to accommodate smaller gatherings or meal-kit preparation. This trend is likely to continue, especially as fall numbers for COVID-19 infections continue to climb and provinces re-institute more restrictions on gatherings.
“We hope that turkey will be on the table for a smaller family Thanksgiving,” says a spokesperson for Exceldor, which markets whole turkeys under the Butterball (pictured above) and Granny’s brands. “We also have several varieties of turkey products, such as our turkey roast that may be suitable for a smaller gathering. Hopefully the restrictions on gatherings will not affect festive celebrations in homes.”
Thanksgiving (for Canadians) is coming up on October 12.