Turkey off the table as Canadians scale down holiday dinner plans

·2 min read
Turkey off the table as Canadians scale down holiday dinner plans

As Canadians scale down their holiday plans to conform with pandemic restrictions, they're also scaling back their Christmas meals — and in many households, that means turkey's off the table this year.

"Not for four people, it's not going to happen!" laughed new mom Marie-Pier Boisvert, who will celebrate her six-month-old daughter's first Christmas without extended family around the table at their Plantagenet, Ont., home. "It was never a question of having a turkey on the table, that's for sure."

With the rules against social gathering, everyone's been going for smaller birds this year. - Glen Badour, Ottawa Valley Meats

Not even grandma and grandpa are coming from Sherbrooke, Que., this year, forbidden from travelling between that province's red zones. Now Boisvert is trying to come up with a Christmas menu that won't leave her family eating leftovers into January.

Poultry producers and distributors are seeing the shift in appetites, too. Normally at this time fo the year, Glen Badour of Ottawa Valley Meats would be talking turkey, but not in 2020.

"With the rules against social gathering, everyone's been going for smaller birds this year," he said. "We have literally almost no orders for [large birds] this year."

Instead, Ottawa Valley Meats is pushing Cornish hens or premium cuts of other meats for Christmas dinner.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

Birds of a different feather

Maegan MacKimmie of the Canadian Turkey Association (CTA) said COVID-19 has had a "significant negative impact" on turkey sales this year. The CTA began noticing the drop in demand for large birds at Thanksgiving, while demand for smaller birds in the five-kilogram range rose.

At Mariposa Farm in Plantagenet, Suzanne Lavoie is seizing on that opportunity.

"It's very exciting for us because we have a chance to promote things other than turkeys," said Lavoie. "It's the first time in 30 years ... I'm sold out of geese three weeks before Christmas."

Lavoie is also suggesting customers consider Muscovy duck, guinea hen, pheasant and free-range chickens. Those alternatives aren't cheap, though: while turkey goes for about $7 per kilo, fresh goose is about $18.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

At Bearbrook Game Meats in Navan, Ont., owner Heidi Clement has found people willing to spend that little bit extra on something special for their 2020 table. But that demand has diminished her supply.

"Everybody is calling for small turkeys, and I only have limited amounts of small turkeys," Clement shrugged.

Luckily, Clement, who estimates her sales are up 20 per cent this year, has plenty of alternatives including venison, elk, bison or wild boar, and said most customers are willing to take the chance on something different in what has been a thoroughly unusual year.