- Butterball will cut 450 jobs from its processing plant in Carthage, Missouri, beginning in March 2021, The Joplin Globe reported. The cuts will halve the production at the facility, which currently has 850 workers.
- The plant will continue to operate, producing ground turkey and turkey burgers using raw material produced at other Butterball facilities. Although the reduction will affect manufacturing employees, the company said it does not anticipate reductions for more than a limited number of turkey growers in the area.
- The turkey company attributed the capacity "ramp down" at the facility to its continued experience with "long-term adverse conditions in the commodities market," and a renewed focus on producing meat offerings that "better align with the products consumers demand." During the pandemic, meat companies across the country have faced struggles responding to coronavirus outbreaks in plants and meeting demand.
While millions of Americans are beset by job loss and financial constraints due to the pandemic, it does not mean that they aren’t celebrating the traditional holidays and bringing turkey to the table. In the months leading up to Thanksgiving, processing plans were unpredictable and had farmers and manufacturers worrying. But Butterball's CEO said smaller gatherings would help turkey sales, which were reportedly up despite the altered holiday plans.
Regardless the increase in turkey sales, Butterball’s slimmed-down operations reflect a wider trend of companies looking to cut costs and bolster their bottom lines. It could also indicate that the pandemic has had a lasting effect on consumer product preferences that have shifted toward shelf-stable options, meal kits and plant-based options.
These trends have particularly affected meat manufacturers as they struggle from the impacts of the pandemic. Pork manufacturers are facing staggering losses of $5 billion and a supply surplus. Meat companies across the country have had to temporarily shutter and invests millions into precautions to protect workers as outbreaks spread among their workforces. Butterball's facilities have not been immune to that. Employees at its manufacturing facility in North Carolina accused Butterball of not taking adequate precautionary measures at the beginning of the pandemic, Civil Eats reported.
Even with headwinds presented by the pandemic, this is not the first facility that Butterball has shuttered in recent years. In 2017, the turkey producer closed its meatpacking plant west of Chicago, cutting 600 jobs. At the time, the company attributed this closure to evolving consumer demand, much like in this most recent announcement.
Demand for plant-based meat has been on the rise for years, but the pandemic accelerated that trend. As a category, sales growth for plant-based food through mid-April was higher than food in general, SPINS statistics analyzed by The Good Food Institute indicated. In response to this movement toward plant-based, Butterball said last year it was developing plant-based options for the traditional Thanksgiving turkey. The company has also moved toward easy-to-prepare options like fully cooked sausage and refrigerated crumbles.
Butterball is looking to evolve its portfolio to modern shoppers. However, it is not the only large company taking this approach and reducing operations as a part of this evolution. Mondelez International announced last month that it is considering closing two biscuit manufacturing plants as early as mid-2021. Coca-Cola said this summer it would buy out 4,000 employees as part of a restructuring plan that would reduce its 17 business units to nine. Danone also said it will cut as many as 2,000 jobs to generate $1.2 billion in savings by 2023.
Within the industry, the push to be more nimble, innovate faster and keep businesses more closely connected with the shopper has driven companies to restructure. Often this means cutting products that are not growing fast in favor of smaller acquisitions of trendy products and reducing the number of workers by making operations leaner.