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The Thanksgiving Turkey Supply Chain

As we all prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, it is easy to overlook the supply chain behind the holiday. When researching for this blog post, I came across an article that said it best. The Supply Chain Game Changer published an article yesterday aptly titled "The Thanksgiving Turkey Supply Chain!", and with their permission, we have re-posted it for your enjoyment.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

The Thanksgiving Turkey Supply Chain!

Recently we were driving on some back roads and in the distance we saw something on the road. As we got closer we saw that there were a bunch of wild turkeys about to cross the road.

The turkeys, hearing us coming, immediately turned around and quickly went back down the side road that they had come from. Apparently they knew that being close to humans was not a good idea, particularly at this time of year.

With this in mind, and with Thanksgiving around the corner, I got to thinking about what the Supply Chain was that brought the Thanksgiving Turkey to the dinner table.

The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving to be a National Holiday.

Turkey has been the centrepiece of Thanksgiving dinner for over 150 years. The U.S. National Turkey Federation states that over 88% of Americans will eat turkey on Thanksgiving day.

The number of turkeys consumed on Thanksgiving is staggering: over 46 million turkeys will be served on Thanksgiving alone.

That’s followed by 22 million turkeys at Christmas, 19 million at Easter, and a total of 220 million turkeys over the course of an entire year.

Providing that number of turkeys requires the precision operation of a massive Supply Chain. How do that many turkeys get raised, processed, transported, distributed and purchased all to meet demand on a single day, Thanksgiving?

In the U.S. the largest turkey producing states are Minnesota (18% of total U.S. production), North Carolina (14%), Arkansas and Missouri. And they obviously require the appropriate logistics and transportation capabilities to handle this highly desired product.

Fresh versus Frozen Turkeys

In the context of the turkey Supply Chain it is extremely important to note that 90% of turkeys consumed are frozen and 10% are fresh.

Frozen turkeys have a very long shelf life. So while the demand for turkeys reaches its peak on only 3 days of the year (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter), the Frozen Turkey Supply Chain does not have to be quite as time sensitive as the fresh Turkey Supply Chain. Turkeys slated to be frozen can be raised and processed throughout the year.

Frozen turkeys can be transported and stored in refrigerated facilities for consumption at a future date. If turkeys are not consumed on Thanksgiving they can be stored for consumption on Christmas, or even Easter. As such the supply-demand planning of the Frozen Turkey Supply Chain is more concerned with the amount of supply and the volume of demand, with less consideration for meeting last minute, real time delivery needs.

The fresh turkey supply chain is much more difficult to execute. This is because fresh turkeys only have a 21 day shelf life. This requires a tremendous amount of supply-demand planning, scheduling, time management, and on time delivery. Without this level of precision fresh turkeys will spoil and cannot be consumed.

Retailers have to work with turkey farmers, Distributors and logistics carriers to forecast demand. Farmers need to carefully schedule and time the incubation of eggs and the raising of the turkeys. Carriers need to have the requisite refrigerated transport capacity available precisely when needed. And Retailers and Distributors must be able to take these products into their channel on a timetable consistent with when consumers will take possession of the turkeys. Planning at all levels in measured in hours and days.

Given that the 4 states mentioned above produce the majority of turkeys for the entire U.S. these turkeys, fresh or frozen, need to be transported to domestic, and international, markets in time for Thanksgiving. Turkeys may be shipped directly to Retailers or to 3PLs who hold the turkeys in storage until they get demand signals from local retailers. Coordination of logistics schedules here is critical.

Logistics For All

The logistics for Thanksgiving turkeys are tremendous given the sheer volume of turkeys and the number of retailers and 3PLs involved. There are many major turkey brands (Eg. Honeysuckle, Butterball, Jennie-O) as well as innumerable small local producers.

On top of the turkey logistics are the logistics required to deliver all of the other food products used in making a Thanksgiving dinner. For instance over 80 million pounds of cranberries (that is 20% of annual demand) is consumed on Thanksgiving.

Over 50 millions Americans will travel at least 50 miles to get their Thanksgiving dinner, of which 4 million will fly to some other part of the country.

And then everyone will shop. Online shopping alone in 2018 is expected to be over #3.3 billion on Thanksgiving day and $5.8 billion on Black Friday.

The shipment of those goods is another set of logistics entirely.


Celebrations throughout the year are very important and Thanksgiving stands as a critical part of the culture. And at the centre of that tradition, and at the centre of the dinner table, is the turkey.

The annual consumption of turkey per person in the U.S. has increased from 8.3 pounds in 1975 to 16.7 pounds in 2016, 20% of which is on Thanksgiving. The popularity of turkey has never been higher.

So let’s be thankful to all the farmers, retailers, and logistics service providers who run the Turkey Supply Chain and make Thanksgiving possible!

© Copyright Mortson Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved. Re-posted with permission; you can find the original article here:

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