Holiday shopping small boon for grocers

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 22, 2009

NATCHEZ — The President may pardon one lucky turkey, but plenty more will be making their way to Thanksgiving dinner tables in the coming days.

And the holiday bird causes more than full bellies, it also brings about a small economic boon for grocers across the country, with turkey sales expected to reach $3.8 billion in 2009 according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Locally, Walmart manager Lionel Stepter said his store has followed that national trend.

Email newsletter signup

“They have really been selling like crazy,” he said. “We can’t keep them in stock. We’ve been getting them in every day.”

Stepter said Walmart uses a system that tracks what items and how much of those each store sells. The distribution center then ships the items that are selling out quickly.

“It would be hard to give you an accurate number of what we’ve sold, but they are definitely selling,” he said.

The USDA estimates that more than 45 million turkeys are cooked and eaten each year at Thanksgiving. That number is one-sixth of all the turkeys consumed during a calendar year.

Stepter said one of the reasons turkeys are selling quickly is because there is something for every level of cook.

“There is even a turkey out that is fully cooked, frozen and in a bag,” he said. “All you have to do is thaw it out and run it through the oven.”

Sales of prepared Thanksgiving meals and dishes are also selling at the same pace as last year, said Virginia Shafer, manager of Uptown Grocery in Natchez.

“It has been a topic of conversation for us, how well the holidays are going to do for us,” she said Friday. “But when we look at the numbers, we are already at the same amount as last year and we still have (Friday and Saturday) left.”

At Uptown, customers can purchase prepared items like Cajun fried turkeys, smoked turkeys and all the trimmings.

Shafer said the fried turkey has been a favorite this year.

“This is our third year to do this, I think,” she said. “And each year it gets bigger. That helps us from a business standpoint, but it is also a help to our customers.”

Shafer said their menu options are good choices for people who don’t have the time to put together a full Thanksgiving feast, but still want to have a traditional meal.

Family traditions are what both Shafer and Stepter said is fueling the Thanksgiving grocery fire.

“As a company, we made it a goal to offer a competitively priced turkey for every family,” Stepter said. “Our objective is to make sure every family that wants a turkey on their table can have one.”

Stepter said his store on Friday had turkeys for as little as 40 cents a pound.

In 2008, according to USDA reports, more than 250 millions turkeys were raised with an average live-weight bird being 28 pounds. That translated into approximately $6 billion pounds of turkey being processed.

In contrast, in 1970 only 105 million birds were raised with 1.5 billion pounds processed.

Shafer said her customers want to continue the family Thanksgiving tradition, despite a slow economy.

“If they are used to having a traditional Thanksgiving meal, they are going to continue doing that,” she said. “They might cut back in different areas, but the tradition, they are going to keep that going.”