How does a Thanksgiving feast get from the farm to your table? Let’s take a look at the food industry supply chain behind two holiday favorites: turkey and pumpkin pie.
Thanksgiving is a time for gathering with friends and family and cranking on the oven to serve up a bounty of delicious food. In the spirit of abundance, household chefs go above and beyond, leaning on recipes old and new to create mounds of cornbread, stuffing, and sweet potatoes that are guaranteed to provide the coveted post-Thanksgiving leftovers. It’s no wonder approximately 45 million turkeys (about $1.10 billion worth) and 50 million pumpkin pies are consumed during Thanksgiving celebrations each year.
So how do so many savory Butterballs and sweet desserts make it to our tables year after year? The farmers, manufacturers, and retailers that produce and transport our food rely on an agile farm to table supply chain equipped with top-of-the-line technology.
Thanksgiving Turkey Warehousing and Distribution
With millions of birds destined for the dinner table on Thanksgiving Day, it would be nearly impossible to rely on fresh turkeys alone. Cue the frozen turkey, and a remarkably flexible food industry supply chain management system. To meet consumer demand, an estimated 90% of Thanksgiving Day turkeys are frozen. These turkeys are frozen year-round and can withstand a lengthy shelf life. Those that don’t get taken home for Thanksgiving are reserved for the Christmas holiday season, or even Easter.
But while housing and shipping frozen turkeys provides a host of logistical advantages compared to fresh birds, the process is still labor- and resource-intensive. Frozen turkeys must be stored in refrigerated trucks during transit to one of two places: retail locations or third-party warehouses equipped with comprehensive refrigeration capabilities. Every step of this process must be optimized with inventory management systems to ensure turkeys are transported and stored according to safety and quality standards. Temperature capture technologies in particular are essential to ensure that the birds arrive in top condition.
Even more preparation is involved with the production and distribution of fresh turkeys, which comprise the remaining 10% of Thanksgiving turkey sales. Fresh turkeys have a 21-day shelf life, leaving little room for error in planning and distribution. When it comes to transportation logistics, careful temperature control in delivery trucks and warehouses is critical to ward off the threat of spoilage.
In order to prevent turkey shortages, it’s important to . This means using vehicle sensors and real-time analytics to ensure that each bird arrives at its intended destination on time. For instance, supply chain managers can use vehicle location and traffic pattern data to determine the best routes from one site to the next. Further, to protect inventory in transit, the predictive capabilities of the Internet of Things (IoT) can be harnessed to prevent costly machine breakdowns.
The Farm to Table Logistics of Turning Pumpkin into Pie
Whether pureed in a can or picked straight from the patch, pumpkins have become an American favorite, working their way onto doorsteps and into lattes, soups, beers, ice cream, and beyond. While hundreds of pumpkin varieties abound, those found in Thanksgiving pies are known as processing pumpkins. These gourds are bred with culinary intentions top of mind, making them meatier and more flavorful than your average Jack O’ Lantern variety.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 80% of Illinois pumpkin acres are devoted to processing pumpkins — more than any other state combined. It makes sense, then, that Illinois is also the home of Libby’s, a Nestle-owned company responsible for producing eight out of every ten cans of pumpkin sold across the globe.
While pumpkin seeds can be planted as early as April, many farmers wait until May or even June to ensure a steady supply of gourds during peak season: September through November. Once they’ve reached the proper stage of development, pumpkins are harvested using machines that corral them into rows and then lift them into trucks destined for the processing plant. Here they are washed, chopped, processed, and canned for global distribution.
Due to popular demand, food retailers hoping to offer pumpkin-inspired items must communicate with distributors and place their orders early to ensure a hearty supply. As with other seasonal products, the threat of a pumpkin shortage is always looming, especially since pumpkins are, first and foremost, a crop susceptible to poor weather conditions.
The Importance of Food Industry Supply Chain Management
Ultimately, the Thanksgiving holiday as we know it would not be possible without proper food industry supply chain management. Retailers and distributors must rely on advanced inventory management and route-optimization strategies to ensure that turkeys and pumpkins arrive on time and in optimal condition. Accomplishing this farm to table supply chain is no small feat, so the next time you toast to the Thanksgiving bounty, give an extra nod to the farmers, processors, packers, and suppliers that help make your feast possible.