Be warned that demand will be high this year for smaller turkeys — because people will be having smaller holiday gatherings.
Earlier in the coronavirus pandemic, shoppers got used to seeing store shelves picked bare of toilet paper and paper towels as some consumers panic-bought, outstripping retailers’ ability to keep up.
While there is some evidence that shoppers are returning to that habit, retailers warn of newer shortages heading into the Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s rush.
This includes smaller turkeys — say 10 pounds — since smaller gatherings mean less demand for 25-pound-plus birds.
Jim Vallides, owner of 90 Meat Outlet in Springfield and Armata’s Market in Longmeadow, said the problem is that turkey growers just can’t make more small birds. They start growing smaller turkeys months ahead of time.
“Now a Thanksgiving dinner that was going to be 20 people is four or six,” he said. “And not everybody is like me and likes all those leftovers.”
Baking supplies like sugar and spices also might be harder to find.
“I just want our customers to trust that we are here for them and we’re working really hard to make sure that we have the products they need,” said Rick Bossie, Big Y Foods Inc. senior vice president of operations and customer experience.
Bossie and other retailers said demand is rising and supplies are shrinking again for cleaning products, including hand sanitizer.
“It’s not every commodity, but it affects other commodities differently,” he said.
There are three factors at play. One is that home consumption of food is still very high compared to eating in school cafeterias or restaurants.
“The use of food purchased at grocery is still off the charts,” he said.
The second factor is a lack of packaging materials, particularly aluminum, which faces a global shortage.
“We are hearing even things like aluminum bakeware that people use for turkeys might be in short supply,” Bossie said.
The third is a problem, which existed even before COVID-19, is too few truckers. Not enough people are entering the industry and it’s hard for logistics companies to staff up and haul goods.
Bossie said Big Y’s new Fresh & Local distribution center in Springfield helps get and keep products on shelves, especially foods raised and processed locally.
Jennifer Brogan, director of external communications for of Stop & Shop, said the chain upped its orders of turkeys and ordered more small birds based on federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for fewer large parties this season.
“And more turkey breasts, too,” she said. “Because just cooking the breast might be a good alternative for people.”
River Valley Co-op in Northampton ordered smaller turkeys both fresh and frozen this year, said General Manager Rochelle Prunty.
“And we expect to cut up a lot of them for smaller-sized gatherings,” she said. “We’ve had some concerns for months about a repeat of the shortages like we experienced in late March and April happening again. We are stocking up on key items that were hard to get in the spring to avoid running out over the holidays.”
Vallides said anyone who really wants an item will be able to find it. But he said hams might be more expensive this year because they take more time to cure and to age. The price of pork spiked earlier this year because processing plants couldn’t find staff.
“They are going to concentrate on doing what we call first-processing,” Vallides said. “So that means they won’t do as many hams. A fresh pork shoulders will be more available.”
Stop & Shop’s Brogan said grocers have known for months that demand is rising for baking ingredients. Even the United Nations warned of spice shortages, noting that the industry has a global supply chain reaching into developing countries impacted by COVID-19.
“People are baking more at home,” Brogan said.
Karen Randall, owner of Randall’s Farm and Greenhouse in Ludlow, said the store rented an extra freezer trainer so it can keep up with demand over the next few months.
“I think everybody that’s in the food business has found it to be strong,” she said. “Unfortunately, people are not doing the dining out. They are not eating at work cafeterias or a school cafeterias.”