Thanksgiving Turkeys Are Smaller This Year As Americans Downsize Celebration As families across the U.S. scale back on how they traditionally celebrate the holiday, it's been a challenge for turkey producers as they figure out how to adapt to the changing market.
NPR logo

Small Turkeys Are In Demand As Americans Downsize At Thanksgiving

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Small Turkeys Are In Demand As Americans Downsize At Thanksgiving

Small Turkeys Are In Demand As Americans Downsize At Thanksgiving

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


People are adjusting their Thanksgiving plans, staying away from large gatherings and, as it turns out, large turkeys. You may pause here to insert a joke about BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music. NPR's Emma Peaslee has the story.

EMMA PEASLEE, BYLINE: Tonya Nash can count on one hand the number of family Thanksgivings she's missed.

TONYA NASH: We drive from Georgia to Texas every year. It's a family tradition that actually started before my boys were even born.

PEASLEE: She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons, but they look forward to celebrating with his family in Houston.

NASH: It can be 20 to 30 people.

PEASLEE: But that big family is part of the reason they're staying home. Her youngest son is high-risk for COVID-19. So while a lot of things will be different this year, Nash is determined to have one thing be the same.

NASH: I'm the only one in my family that likes turkey, so I just got a very small turkey. And I'm going to get a ham 'cause everyone in the family typically eats that a little bit better.

PEASLEE: It's different than the nearly 20-pound turkey they might have in Houston. But even if she's the only one eating it, Nash is adamant.

NASH: You have to have turkey.

PEASLEE: She's not alone. Butterball surveyed about a thousand adults in September. They found that 30% plan to celebrate with just their immediate family. That's twice as many compared to most years.

RONI MCDANIEL: Hi. This is Butterball Turkey Talk Line. How can I help you?

PEASLEE: Roni McDaniel and her daughter, Coren Hayes, are Butterball experts. They've been fielding questions about Thanksgiving for weeks. And they're noticing a difference in what people are asking.

MCDANIEL: You know, oddly enough, they are looking for smaller turkeys. What about you, Miss?

COREN HAYES: They are looking for smaller turkeys. And I'm getting more questions about availability in general. Where can I find a turkey? Where can I go?

PEASLEE: Questions like that might indicate another trend - first-time hosts. McDaniel and Hayes are used to working with newbies, including one caller who accidentally bought a chicken instead of a turkey.

HAYES: And he seemed very sincere. How do I, you know, cook this and make it seem like a turkey to my guests because I really don't want to mess this up?

PEASLEE: Hayes told that caller to just come clean with the guests.

While the Butterball Talk Line can answer the question of how to cook a smaller bird, it's not as easy for farmers to make the adjustment.


PEASLEE: Rachel and Joe Shenk raise turkeys on a small farm in Newport, N.C.

RACHEL SHENK: Sometimes, once you get them going, they just keep, like, (imitating turkeys gobbling).


PEASLEE: They're hearing a similar refrain from their customers.

SHENK: I want the smallest turkey you have.

PEASLEE: But for the Shenks and other turkey farmers, once the turkeys are hatched, there's not much they can do because a smaller turkey isn't just a turkey on a diet. It's a turkey born on a completely different date. And that's a decision they would have had to make months ago, long before people were canceling their plans because of a surge in coronavirus cases. So the Shenks are helping their customers get creative.

SHENK: And so then I have to go back and be like, well, would you be OK with a half-turkey?

PEASLEE: And it turns out they are, because while half a turkey isn't exactly Instagram-worthy, it's certainly not the weirdest thing about 2020.

Emma Peaslee, NPR News, Newport, N.C.


SIMON: I will not gobble.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.