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The Logistics & Supply Chain of Thanksgiving

The turkey is out of the oven. Rolls are on the table. Family members are starting to find their way into the kitchen, and Thanksgiving dinner is about to begin. The meal is the combination of days of shopping, hours of cooking and endless arguments over what exactly goes into the gravy, but many forget how grand the scope of simply preparing Thanksgiving dinner can be.

Think about where each ingredient came from, its journey over the roads, its production and refinement and its cost. Now, multiply that by 250 million Americans celebrating the holiday, reports Bob Trebilcock of Logistics Management.

That adds up to $2.375 billion spent on food for Thanksgiving dinner, says Envista. Paying $1.18 per pound for turkey might seem like an expense, but that cost and bird reflects more about the supply chain’s functions than you realize.

The Thanksgiving Turkey’s Plight.

Frozen turkeys make up 90 percent of Thanksgiving sales, explains Chris Cunnane of Logistics Viewpoints. Since the number of turkeys needed is so large, it would be impractical to grow and cull them within a month of Thanksgiving, so the process continues throughout the year. Turkeys are bred, slaughtered and frozen. They are stored at the appropriate temperature until the holiday arrives, meaning warehousing and processing facilities are needed.

Meanwhile, logistics operations must transport them from the farm to the production facility and beyond. More grocers operating mean the supply shutterstock_505576684chain must be able to send them around the country effortlessly, creating an ongoing supply chain devoted solely to getting the turkey from farm to table.

The remaining 10 percent of turkeys sold are fresh, meaning they are never frozen. Fresh turkey spoils faster and requires fast-paced logistics. Unless the turkey farm is around the corner, fresh turkeys are probably the only profitable turkeys sold by grocers for the holiday. In fact, frozen turkeys often result in costs, not profits, to their sellers to keep their customers happy, but fresh turkeys can be a source of profitable revenue.

The basics of food safety for fresh items come into play with fresh turkey. Drivers must be wary of taking on “short cuts” that have not been tested before, and other shortcuts must be used to get the items to stores in distant places before they spoil. In urban areas, drivers must be cautious of how many stops can change temperature settings in the truck, and the whole process continues throughout November and December as well.

Sides and Drinks From Around the Globe.

There are some typical side dishes to expect for Thanksgiving dinner, such as mashed potatoes, but what about side dishes that are not necessarily native to the U.S. Hispanic specialty items may require shipping from other countries, and others may want to incorporate imported wine selections to pair with dinner.

Think about another Thanksgiving tradition, football. Beer sales increase during sporting events, and beer is something that has a long journey too. Imported ales, craft lagers and more all have different journeys that end at the local store, and each journey needs logistics and the supply chain to make it to your table. In fact, Thanksgiving Eve has become more than a time for preparation. It has become the biggest party night of the year, explains The Wall Street Journal, outranking New Year’s Eve! Vendors must have top-selling liquors and beverages on hand well before Thanksgiving, and suppliers must increase production to meet this demand. Every gulp or sip is another final step in how supply chain entities and logistics providers help to make Thanksgiving possible.

Could Thanksgiving Be Possible Without Logistics?

Essentially, Thanksgiving dinner would be possible, but it would not be what people expect. A cornucopia of food, drink, and enjoyment is expected. In other words, people could grow their food, raise their turkeys and brew their lagers. However, this is more than difficult, and depending on each individual’s location, it may be illegal.

Cities may have strict limits for raising farm animals within city limits, and brewing lagers at home can pose a hazard to public safety. There is a movement to avoid processed foods, but even that would still put a demand on the supply chain for fresh ingredients. Ultimately, the idea of Thanksgiving today is not possible without the support and continued efforts of the logistics industry and its supply chain partners. Some people may not even like the idea of slaughtering a turkey, so who would do it?shutterstock_520217191

The entire process hinges on letting other people take on some of the work to get the products and ingredients Mom needs for preparing dinner. When you sit down for dinner, thank the men and women who have taken on the responsibilities of making it possible throughout the year.

"Be Thankful For Logistics."

Thank the drivers for spending countless hours on the road, and thank the warehouse managers for keeping the turkeys frozen. Thank the stockers for putting the items on the shelves, and thank the utility companies for their services as well. There are millions of small things that add up to Thanksgiving, so start your "I’m Thankful For” list now.

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Kevin Jessop

Kevin Jessop

Marketing Project Manager at Cerasis
I handle tactical execution of our marketing strategies as well as help execute new projects and collaborate with our Marketing Director to continue to push brand and company awareness.
Kevin Jessop
Kevin Jessop

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