Primal Supply Meats supplies Philadelphia with local, pasture-raised, and traceable meats. Butcher and founder Heather Thomason describes how the pandemic has affected her business, which “is built on a local supply chain, working directly with local farmers, so we have not suffered from logistics and supply chain disruptions that have impacted the industrial meat supply chain. However, as a small business we have felt the volatility of changes in customer behavior as people navigate the impact of the pandemic on their lives. We have experienced record highs and lows in demand, as well as continually evolving habits about how and where our customers shop for food, and how much they are cooking and eating at home.”
“Primal has been able to maintain a steady sales outlet and local market for our farmers raising animals for us. Because they work directly with other small businesses in our region, they also have not experienced any dramatic disruptions in feed and supply. This is the benefit of operating within a local food economy.”
Other purveyors describe this same stability.
Vincent Finazzo, the CEO of Riverwards Produce Market, urges: “Do not depend on the big box stores. Lean into your local markets and start making connections now. Go to your local farmers market now and start asking about pre-orders. The food is out there, you just have to find it. Doing your own sourcing can be eye-opening and satisfying. It gives you a good connection to your food.”
Emilio Mignucci, the owner of Di Bruno Brothers, a specialty grocer with both online retail and five physical locations, describes the pandemic issues he’s seen affect his suppliers. “A lot of them are small makers that we feel is our responsibility to bring to market. They have great products and need an outlet for their goods. The larger suppliers that we deal with are shorting us products because they do not have enough employees who came back to work, and then there is the issue of logistical delays.”
Finazzo describes these same delays as tied to “fuel surcharge increases and labor shortages which lead to insufficient order building and delivery times.” These are issues experienced across the board in retail, but also at small markets like Riverwards Produce. “Since most of the items on the Thanksgiving table are sourced locally, from turkey to Brussels sprouts, we are not going to have issues there.”
Farmers’ markets stepped in early on as pandemic-related supply chain issues in supermarkets were experienced virtually everywhere. White gives an overview: “While conditions varied from state to state and city to city, most farmers’ markets stayed open with strict Covid-19 protocols to provide a safe outdoor grocery shopping experience. Farmers and food makers largely saw increases in their sales… as other sources - chain grocery stores and commodity meat producers and processors - broke down.”
We are all familiar with the sourdough craze of the pandemic. Reid describes how King Arthur, which saw a huge jump in business when the pandemic hit, rose to the challenge. “People were scrambling for bread; they turned toward making their own, and the race was on for supplies - packaging for both flour and yeast were the main constraints. I was mailing packets of yeast to friends on the West Coast who couldn’t find any.”
There were also seismic shifts in other Thanksgiving-adjacent suppliers’ businesses. Bob Lesnikoski, the owner of the Vermont Cranberry Company says: “In general, the sales of our products increased to the consumer during the pandemic. But sales to wineries and cideries were devastated – a net loss of about 20% of our sales. I think our holiday sales will be more robust this year compared to last, the Thanksgiving of 2020, which did not happen.”
Victoria Belinsky, the director of brand marketing at broth company Kettle & Fire says: “We saw a lot of people buying both bone and cooking broth throughout the pandemic as people shifted from going out to restaurants to eating in their own homes. Many people craved and are craving comfort meals and cooking broth is often the foundation of those recipes.” This year, she says, “Stock up early and while you can.”
Back to White’s recommendation to discover new dishes this year. Max Depondt, the general manager for Skuna Bay, which raises salmon sustainably off the coast of Vancouver Island, suggests: “Get creative, order ahead, and manage expectations. I am sure people will be interested in a well done, traditional Thanksgiving meal and probably are even willing to pay a little extra for it. But I think people have gotten a lot more comfortable with reimagining the way things are ‘supposed to be’ for many reasons, and that is also a huge opportunity for chefs to expand people’s understanding. Why not seafood for Thanksgiving? Make thoughtful choices and have a story about why you made those choices.”
Skuna Bay prefers to rely on truck transport rather than air freight, which is more expensive, carbon intensive, and prone to disruptions. “This is also a concept that people have become acutely more aware of in the pandemic, which helps us and is also great for understanding why a product that comes from far away might not be on the shelf this season,” says Depondt.
As a someone who plans to put more sustainably raised seafood on the Thanksgiving table this year, my menu will include both salmon and oysters, which were likely more traditional than turkeys when it comes to Thanksgiving. They were extremely plentiful in the Chesapeake Bay in the 17th and 18th centuries, enjoyed by Native Americans and then, for a time, decimated by early American settlers who ate so many that oyster stocks plummeted by the 19th century. Kathleen Tozzi, the director of business development at True Chesapeake Oyster Co., a sustainable oyster farm, encourages us to eat oysters for Thanksgiving this year. “We love to have oyster stuffing. And having them roasted or grilled on the half shell is a great appetizer. The holidays are about the experience and there is nothing more experiential than shucking oysters at home.”
The smaller the supply chain, the less disruption. This year, pre-order your favorite foods early, get to know your local farmers and producers and order from your neighbors. Try out some new dishes this year. They may become future Thanksgiving staples.