With Thanksgiving now having come and gone, the holiday is unfolding into a tale of supply chain efficiency. In the USA alone, more than 50 million turkeys were sold, packaged, and delivered in the days leading up to Thanksgiving this year. The logistics behind it all is fascinating. 

The US department of agriculture estimates that more than 254 million turkeys (worth approximately $5 billion) are raised each year. In addition, the farm-to-table Thanksgiving travel spans more than 2,500 miles. 

Yet it all comes together in a meticulously orchestrated journey.

Thanksgiving’s farm-to-feast journey

A survey by Mexicom Logistics highlights how millions of turkeys, pumpkins, and cranberries were raised, transported, and distributed in 2023. 

Thanksgiving supply chain: The Journey of 50 million turkeys
Image: Mexicom Logistics

Most retailers begin stocking up six months in advance but keep in mind that fresh turkeys only have a 3-week shelf life. According to Cargo Data Corp, it’s impossible to meet the demand for fresh poultry. 

In addition, the lifespan of a turkey from being hatched to being slaughtered ranges from 10 to 18 weeks. Therefore, the bulk of the turkey purchases ahead of Thanksgiving are frozen, giving farmers just enough time to deliver fresh batches to retailers.  

The cost of a Thanksgiving meal

This year, the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people averaged to around $61.17 – less than $6.20 per person. The average cost was $64.05 in 2022, and $53.31 in 2021. 

Thanksgiving supply chain: The Journey of 50 million turkeys
Image: American Farm Bureau Federation

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), the cost of turkeys decreased from last year’s figures, due to cases of bird flu. The price of whole milk decreased too – down by $3.74 (2.6%) per gallon.

A turkey weighing roughly 16 pounds costs $27.35 (or $1.71 per pound) this year, which is a decrease of 5.6%. Meanwhile, the costs of dinner rolls, pumpkin pie mix, and carrots increased by 2.9%, 3.7%, and 2.3%, respectively. 

A logistical marvel

Let’s consider where the bulk of the ingredients for a standard Thanksgiving dinner comes from: 

  • Pumpkins are produced in all states, with Illinois producing five times more than other states – approximately 634 million pounds. Mexico also holds an 86% share in US pumpkin imports. Smaller quantities are produced in Indiana and California.
  • Cranberries are produced in Wisconsin and Massachusetts, which is where the bulk of the US’s supply comes from. Smaller quantities are produced in New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington.
  • Turkeys are largely raised in Minnesota, followed in lesser quantities by Carolina, Arkansas, and Missouri. When imported, approximately 99% comes from Canada.

And it should be noted that transporting large quantities of both fresh and frozen products is not a walk in the park. While frozen food supply chains focus on the amount of supply and the volume of demand, fresh produce requires velocity and on-time delivery.

Each of these items also comes with its own preservation needs and timelines, which all culminate in a remarkable feat of logistics management. It’s an intricate balancing act between preserving quality and meeting delivery deadlines

About the author

Cheryl has contributed to various international publications, with a fervor for data and technology. She explores the intersection of emerging tech trends with logistics, focusing on how digital innovations are reshaping industries on a global scale. When she's not dissecting the latest developments in AI-driven innovation and digital solutions, Cheryl can be found gaming, kickboxing, or navigating the novel niches of consumer gadgetry.