Thanksgiving restrictions turn to trouble for N.B. turkey farm

·3 min read
Jocelyn Boudreau is the operations manager of Boudreau Meat Market in Memramcook, N.B.  (Alexandre Silberman/CBC - image credit)
Jocelyn Boudreau is the operations manager of Boudreau Meat Market in Memramcook, N.B. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC - image credit)

When the phone kept on ringing at Boudreau Meat Market on Tuesday afternoon, employees at the family business were taken by surprise.

"One of our guys in the shop called me and said either we posted something or something changed, because we had four or five phone calls of people cancelling within the last 15 minutes," said operations manager Jocelyn Boudreau.

The provincial government had just announced new restrictions for the holiday weekend, aimed at slowing a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Boudreau and his staff of about 15 employees were hard at work preparing for the second busiest time of year, when they found their turkey sales were facing a pandemic curveball.

Beginning Friday at 6 p.m., all indoor and outdoor gatherings will be limited to single-household bubbles. That measure remains in effect until 11:59 p.m. on Monday.

Restrictions in "circuit breaker" areas of Zones 1, 3 and 4 will continue for at least two weeks.

Early turkey suppers

The Memramcook meat market and farm, about 30 kilometres south of Moncton, has been helping customers adapt to the new situation for Thanksgiving.

Boudreau said he's heard from people who planned to host as many as two dozen family members.

"Now with the pandemic in play since last year, we're giving the option to people to buy a half-turkey so they're not stuck with 15 pounds," he said in an interview.

Most customers are asking for smaller orders and about a quarter are cancelling.

Boudreau said about 10 to 20 per cent have opted to pick up their turkeys on Thursday to have an early Thanksgiving meal before the gathering restrictions take effect Friday evening.

"Some are choosing that and hosting their Thanksgiving supper on Thursday night before the restrictions come in place," he said.

Smaller turkeys trending

Turkey Farmers of Canada, which represents about 520 producers nationwide, said smaller turkeys and roasts have been trending over the past few years — a shift speeding up during the pandemic.

Chair Darren Ference said whole bird sales are expected to be similar to last year, with prices holding steady, despite a 30 per cent rise in the cost of feed.

Alexandre Silberman/CBC
Alexandre Silberman/CBC

"I'm sure people are still going to celebrate Thanksgiving in smaller numbers, like they did last year under the pandemic restrictions," he said.

New Brunswickers waiting last minute to buy turkeys — even smaller ones — don't need to worry

The prices at local supermarkets are comparable to last year and supply is strong, according to Louis Martin of Turkey Farmers of New Brunswick.

Sales picking up

Boudreau Meat Market started offering cut-up turkeys for the first time last year to adapt to smaller dinners, adding drumsticks, parts and turkey breasts.

Sales at the fourth-generation family business started to climb back up over the summer as family gatherings resumed. The market also sells chicken, pork, beef and lamb, most of it raised and slaughtered on site.

The meat market lost 30 per cent of sales last year, compared to before the pandemic. Its biggest hit came at Easter 2020, shortly after the province first declared a state of emergency.

Alexandre Silberman/CBC
Alexandre Silberman/CBC

Thanksgiving is the second biggest holiday for turkey sales after Christmas, and the farm expects to sell about 350 turkeys this year. That's out of 1,400 birds sold throughout the year.

Boudreau said the business sold an average of 2,000 turkeys before the pandemic. It used to supply meat for schools and larger events, but COVID-19 has dried up that revenue source.

"We were definitely looking to sell quite a few more turkeys than last year, and it was all going well until the announcement," he said.

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