Nov 08 2018

Tur-Key to Success: How an Efficient Supply Chain Gets “Turkey to Table”

Thanksgiving in America is a time when families come together to share not only in the joy that accompanies this special day, but to partake in the largest feast of the year. No holiday quite embraces the meal like Thanksgiving. The specialty of the day is the turkey, with  close to 50 million consumed over Thanksgiving weekend, by 88% of all Americans celebrating the holiday.

How do suppliers have enough turkeys to meet such high demand? Much in the same way the dinner is prepared: careful planning and efficient logistics.

Do you know the average turkey for Thanksgiving Day dinner will travel up to 2,500 miles?  This places greater emphasis on the supply chain to get the product to the various store shelves throughout the country in time for the holiday. The Thanksgiving supply chain is complex. It takes a great deal of planning, especially because the birds need time to mature. The process takes roughly 10 to 18 weeks depending on how big farmers want the turkeys -- once the turkeys are the proper weight, they are ready to be distributed to stores.

Food retailers begin planning up to 6 months prior to the holiday to ensure they will have enough product on hand.  This means having contracts with large scale suppliers, local farms, and a means of delivery. There are 2 varieties of turkeys stores need to keep in stock: frozen and fresh. Frozen birds account for 90% of total sales, with fresh turkeys comprising the other 10%. Frozen turkeys are easier on the supply chain. They are bred, raised, processed and frozen throughout the year to ensure they meet consumer demand.  It’s possible for a frozen turkey to be up to 3 years old before it’s finally sold through a retailer. This benefits the suppliers. It places less strain on the supply chain because year round production means that there isn't a “ramp up” period as the holidays approach.

Fresh turkeys on the other hand are a bit more complicated. Farmers, and producers have to make sure that when the eggs are laid in the spring they are properly tended to. The birds are then given time to mature before they are processed and shipped off to retailers in time for Thanksgiving at an optimum level of freshness. From that point, the fresh birds have a shelf life of 10-14 days. Labeling is therefore more important with fresh turkeys -- the “sell by” dates need to be accurate to ensure quality due to the limited shelf life.   

What happens to all the turkeys once they reach the store? The unsold frozen birds will either be saved for Christmas, which is the second largest day of turkey consumption in the United States, or they will be sold under market value post holiday. In the weeks leading up to and post holiday, some stores will offer a free frozen turkey if a shopper spends a certain amount of money in a given time frame. Retailers use this as an attempt to gain in-store foot traffic and to cut losses they incur from people buying cheaper, frozen birds. Due to the overall higher logistical cost of transporting, cold storing, and the lower price per pound, frozen turkeys aren’t a profitable item when sold.

Regardless of the variety of turkey you buy, logistics never stops and the supply chain is constantly in motion. It’s something that most consumers take for granted. On this day of thanks, take a moment and appreciate those who helped get the turkey to your table.

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