NEW JERSEY — Vincent Losavio may have to do something he hasn’t done in his 54 years as a butcher: turn down a turkey order.

Losavio, owner of John’s Meat Market in Scotch Plains, said that as Thanksgiving approaches, his business is seeing an increased demand for smaller turkeys than in prior years, impacting his supply. On weeks where he would normally place orders for 100 turkeys, he has received up to 300.

“This year, everyone's buying the small turkeys,” he said. “Hardly any big ones, it's not like other years. It's cutting the supply way down.”

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As Gov. Phil Murphy and health officials have discouraged large family gatherings for Thanksgiving celebrations this year, Losavio is among many in the industry facing an unprecedented demand for smaller birds due to the pandemic.

According to Butterball, one of the largest Turkey purveyors in the country, 30% of people plan to host only immediate family for Thanksgiving this year, an increase from 18% in typical years.

Consumers, though, may not have to worry about turkey shortages. According to spokespeople from the National Turkey Federation and Butterball, no shortages of turkey are expected this year. And local turkey purveyors, like Joseph Silvestri, owner of Goffle Road Poultry Farm in Wyckoff, planned for the small turkey demand in advance, changing growing patterns at his farm six months ago.

“We made decisions that we were going to have smaller birds available because we didn't believe COVID was going to disappear,” he said. “We anticipated some issues and we didn't want to get caught with a lot of big inventory that we had no place to go with. So we adjusted for it.”

The switch to smaller turkeys reverses a decades-long trend that sought a demand for increasingly larger birds — according to the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center at Ohio State University, the average commercial turkey is over three times the size it was 50 years ago.

“A larger bird grows more efficiently,” said Michael L. Westendorf, a professor of animal sciences at Rutgers University. “At the same time the growth rate is increased in poultry, the amount of feed required to produce a given weight gain has declined. So you have a faster-growing bird that consumes less feed, so it’s a more profitable bird.”

The increased demand for small turkeys isn’t the best financial news for turkey farmers. Restaurants aren’t ordering nearly as many turkeys, according to Silvestri. And even as farms fulfill the same number of orders, it’ll be for a smaller bird.

“We’re all being hurt from it,” Silvestri said. “The revenue will be a lot less, maybe even half the amount of revenue. But it’s better than nothing.”

He added, “But we’re grateful we’re getting a piece of it and not totally knocked out.”

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