Looking Back at the Thanksgiving Supply Chain: How Turkeys Were Delivered to Millions of Americans

The two years of COVID-19 pandemic have turned people’s lives upside down. After this year’s Thanksgiving season, it is necessary to thank all those who are helping people counter this crisis. These people include doctors, nurses, hotels, social volunteers, and hygiene workers. 

But, wait a second! 

We missed someone very important—the people who delivered numerous products at our doorsteps and filled supplies in our neighbourhood stores. These are the essential workers across the supply chain who worked tirelessly to make sure goods reached customers at the right time.  

What would Thanksgiving be without any fresh food and turkeys? Just one more normal day! If there is a special acknowledgement, it should definitely go to the field agents who delivered turkeys and fresh food before that special day.

The turkey supply chain 

The demand for turkeys reaches its peak during three days of the year (Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving). 

The supply chain of frozen turkeys is majorly concerned with volume of demand and supply. It does not have any considerations for meeting real-time and last-minute delivery needs. If frozen turkeys are not consumed on Thanksgiving day, it may be consumed later on Christmas or Easter. This is because frozen turkeys can be stored, refrigerated and used for consumption at a future date.

As the shelf life of fresh turkey is only 21 days, it is extremely difficult to execute a fresh turkey supply chain. It needs a tremendous amount of scheduling, on-time delivery, time management and supply-demand planning. Fresh turkeys will be spoiled and cannot be consumed if this level of precision is not maintained.

A typical turkey supply chain

Locus makes easy for turkey supply chain process

How was the Thanksgiving supply chain of turkeys during this 2021 holiday season?

An agent delivering the turkeys using final mile delivery software

Let us assume that the entire process of bringing turkeys from farms to the consumers’ table takes 100 days. It is well and good if these processes are executed within 100 days but if it takes 101 days, it can pose a problem. This is because people rarely eat turkeys after Thanksgiving. Hence, any disruptions can bring the turkey supply chain to a standstill.

When it comes to executing supply chain operations for fresh turkeys and fresh food, coordination of logistics schedules is critical. Let’s take a look at what the Thanksgiving supply chain of turkeys looked like during this 2021 holiday season:

Consumers buying turkeys in advance 

Inventories of frozen whole turkeys and turkey parts were 24 percent lower than 3-year average volumes. -US Department of Agriculture, Aug 31, 2021 

In 2021, global shortage of raw materials for food products and other industries resulted in people buying turkeys in advance. Even though turkeys were available in some parts of the US, the break in the supply chain made it difficult for businesses to bring them to stores. 

Unanticipated rise in demand for small-sized turkeys  

Consumers buying turkeys in advance was a reflection of the bullwhip effect in the supply chain. When retailers turn extremely sensitive to unexpected demand fluctuations and amplify their expectations around it, a bullwhip effect occurs. 

Retailers, and distributors stocked up huge amounts of large-sized turkeys predicting that COVID-19 pandemic would abate and people would celebrate in large groups. But the unexpected rise of the delta variant forced the government to pass mandatory regulations and people to celebrate Thanksgiving in smaller groups. The amplified expectations around the large-sized turkeys led retailers to stock them in advance. This resulted in retail outlets and distribution centers unable to fulfill demand for small-sized turkeys. 

The sudden rise in demand for small-sized turkeys made it difficult for retailers and distributors to clear their shelves filled with large-sized turkeys. The bullwhip effect on small-sized turkeys was a result of pandemic restrictions, shortage of truck drivers, essential workers, lack of grocery store associates and warehouse associates.   

Higher turkey prices

The prices of turkey had been 26 cents a pound more compared to the previous year. – US Department of Agriculture Turkey market news report, Nov 26, 2021 

The rising turkey prices due to supply chain disruptions have led their retail prices in grocery stores to shoot up. Increased turkey prices have made it difficult for grocery stores to attract customers to stores. Logistics experts dealing with turkeys call them the ‘loss-leaders’ in the grocery store when their prices are up.

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Smaller turkeys in shorter supply 

With travel limitations arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, people celebrated their Thanksgiving together in smaller groups. Fewer people meant smaller birds. The sudden surge in demand led people to buy birds in units rather than pounds and making it difficult for turkey sellers and retailers to fulfil the demand.  

Why was there a greater availability of large turkeys this 2021 Thanksgiving season?

The food at home index rose 5.4 percent over the past 12 months as all of the six major grocery store food group indexes increased over the period. The index for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs increased 11.9 percent, with the index for beef rising 20.1 percent and the index for pork rising 14.1 percent, its largest 12-month increase since the period ending December 1990. – Consumer Price Index, October 2021, Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Labor shortages at meat packing plants forced turkey suppliers to extend the birds’ lifetimes before slaughtering or processing them. Older birds weighed more than the standard 16 pounds. The skyrocketing demand for turkeys and supply chain bottlenecks caused by the labor shortages are the major reasons for inflation of turkey prices and higher availability of large turkeys. 


This pandemic has affected global logistics businesses in a big way, but there are also a number of lessons to be learned.  Beyond having a renewed focus on supply chain planning and supply chain resilience, businesses should work on updating their investments in essential technological tools. 

The challenge businesses involved in logistics of turkey distribution is in their last-mile delivery. As foot traffic is not high in stores, grocery businesses with their in-house resources or specialized logistics providers as partners are attempting to deliver turkeys to consumers for other special occasions like Christmas or New Year. 

During such a crisis, businesses in turkey deliveries should start investing into last-mile delivery technologies. One such important technology is the delivery logistics software. Of course, there are many uncontrollable factors in turkey logistics. A delivery logistics software ensures that you manage your limited resources and execute maximum deliveries and make considerable cost savings.

With its experience of adding value to the logistics of meat-based companies, Locus delivery logistics software is the best addition to your turkey logistics. Its high-end dynamic route planning capabilities help businesses manage ad-hoc deliveries with the limited availability of truck drivers. Its advanced tracking capabilities enable them to minimize their logistical delays and deliver fresh turkeys at the right time.


  1. https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/chart-gallery/gallery/chart-detail/?chartId=102465 
  2. https://www.ams.usda.gov/mnreports/pytturkey.pdf 
  3. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/cpi.pdf

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