British Columbia

Turkey barns are packed but inventory lowest in 20 years, marketing board says

Although turkey barns are packed, frozen turkey inventories are at their lowest in more than two decades, according to the B.C. Turkey Marketing Board — and some supermarkets are selling out of the holiday staple.

More turkeys will make their way to stores, says board

Two-week-old turkeys pictured at a farm in Richmond, B.C. in October. The low inventory of turkeys stocked in commercial freezers, to be delivered to grocers, is the result of fewer turkeys farmed during the pandemic, according to the B.C. Turkey Marketing Board. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Although turkey barns are packed, frozen turkey inventories are at their lowest in more than two decades, according to the B.C. Turkey Marketing Board — and some supermarkets are selling out of the holiday staple.

"Frozen inventory is down 30 per cent, but we expect more fresh turkeys this year than we did last," said Michel Benoit, general manager of the BCTMB. 

The low inventory of turkeys stocked in commercial freezers, to be delivered to grocers, is the result of fewer turkeys farmed during the pandemic.

According to Benoit, the industry faced production cuts as fewer people participated in gatherings and celebrations, hosted holiday dinners, and dined in restaurants.

But as restrictions eased over the last year, demand ramped up. Production has increased by twice as much this year, filling barns with turkeys to be delivered to stores by Christmas, says Benoit.

"From the time you decide to increase production to the time you can actually get a turkey on a plate, it takes over six months … it's been a real challenge to try to figure it out," he said.

"We do have more product than we had last year. The question is, will it be enough?"

Now, finding turkeys in time for the holidays may be a breeze for some shoppers — but not so much for others in some parts of the province.

Stores see birds in hot demand

Maverick Mart in Prince Rupert, on B.C.'s northwest coast, has had to switch from selling turkeys to hams.

"Demand has been crazy. We've had so many phone calls about turkey and people getting upset," said the supermarket's owner, Rick Taylor. 

The store has sold out of its 123 frozen free-range turkeys and will not be able to order more in time for Christmas.

In the Lower Mainland, Nature's Pickin's Market in the city of Abbotsford says its 100 pre-order slots — where the market orders fresh birds from suppliers ahead of selling them in-store — are almost sold out. 

Because the market gets their turkey supply from nearby farms, including in Yarrow, Chilliwack, they were able to secure turkeys for pre-orders. However, placing more orders in time for Christmas has been a challenge. 

"We have tried to order more, but it's delayed in the end like so close to Christmas ... we can't find [turkeys] anywhere. Everybody's sold out," said meat manager Carrie Newham. 

According to market owner Caroline Phillips, turkey sales "have been really early for this time of year."

"But I think it's because ... people are panicking," she said. "People are buying [turkeys] really quickly. And they're buying more than one, basically."

Potential supply delays

Benoit surmises people may be looking forward to large gatherings over the holidays, and purchasing turkeys early as they keep potential shortages or delivery delays in mind.

Over 80 per cent of turkey production occurs in B.C.'s Lower Mainland, he says, and current transportation limitations are resulting in major supply delays.

"It's kind of a snowball impact on trying to get the return trips back and getting the drivers back and making other deliveries," he said.

Over 80 per cent of turkey production occurs in B.C.'s Lower Mainland, and current transportation limitations are resulting in major supply delays. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

Save-On-Foods in the northern city of Prince George says they are unable to estimate turkey delivery dates for customers due to changing weather and road conditions, impacting deliveries.

The grocer is also adding limits to the amount of birds customers can purchase.

"We put limits in place to ensure our customers and their families have turkeys available to them at Christmas and to minimize restaurants and other businesses from buying in bulk," the grocer said in an email statement to CBC News.

Notices at Save-On-Foods in Prince George, pictured on Dec. 14, highlight turkey purchase limits and challenges around estimated delivery dates for more turkeys. (Andrew Kurjata)

Sobeys Inc., which operates more than 1,500 stores across Canada including Safeway, IGA and FreshCo, says its B.C. stores have "a great supply of turkeys."

"We will continue to restock our stores as needed. Customers should be confident that our supply chain is well stocked," said spokesperson Sarah Dawson.

As consumers prepare their holiday feasts, Benoit says fresh turkeys will continue to make their way to stores. 

"The fresh supply probably hasn't hit the stores yet and there'll be lots of fresh turkeys this year," said Benoit.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now