The time for Americans to clean out some fridge space before Thanksgiving may have come a little early this year. Butterball, the USâ€™s top maker of Thanksgiving turkeys, is having some problems delivering the bigger birds to stores around the country.
The company told retailers that their orders for fresh turkeys 16 pounds (7.3 kg) and bigger have been cut by 50%, according to a press release from Big Y, a grocery chain in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Butterball, which produces around 20% of the USâ€™s turkeys and 1.3 billion pounds of turkey meat a year, has confirmed in a emailed statement that â€œthere may be limited availability on some larger sizes of fresh turkeysâ€ and that the shortage is nationwide.
This is a big worry because 16 pounds is the average weight of turkeys eaten at Thanksgiving, which 88% of US households celebrate, according to EatTurkey.com, an industry site. According to Butterballâ€™s handy calculator, a 16-pound turkey would feed a dinner party of six adults and six children.
Mind you, that doesnâ€™t mean thereâ€™ll be no big turkeys to be had. Itâ€™s only fresh turkeys from Butterball that are affected; the company sells frozen ones too, and there are several other manufacturers who will be only too delighted to fill the gap. But what might be more reason for panic than a turkey shortage is whatâ€™s causing it.
â€œWe experienced a decline in weight gains on some of our farms causing a limited availability of large, fresh turkeys,â€ said Butterballâ€™s statement. Translation: Its turkeys arenâ€™t growing as fast as they used to.
This is odd because the industry has cranked out steadily heavier turkeys with each passing year. In 2011, the average turkey weighed some 57% more than in 1965, according to the US Department of Agriculture. And though itâ€™s the most popular size, a 16-pound turkey isnâ€™t even that big. The birds raised for processing average 28 pounds.
Odder still, though, is that Butterball, the USâ€™s turkey-farming powerhouse, isnâ€™t sure why its birds stay svelter than usualâ€”or isnâ€™t yet saying. â€œWhile we are continuing to evaluate all potential causes, we are working to remedy the issue,â€ says the company.