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What Do Thanksgiving and the Supply Chain Have in Common?


It is often said that all politics are local. So is the supply chain.  But this blog is not talking about the last mile.  The last mile is best left to FedEx, UPS and Amazon. We are talking about your Thanksgiving celebration.  Thanksgiving is a microcosm of all that is good and bad with supply chain planning.  If you are in my family, it also requires advanced analytics to get everything in order.  Let’s break it down and see if you can relate.


Who is coming is the fundamental question and it is often not decided until the last minute.  Our family begins by looking at last year’s “forecast” and seeing who came and who did not.  There was more demand in 2021 than in 2020 due to COVID, but COVID also suppressed demand due to the fall surge in cases.  Should we use 2020 and 2021 to predict a trend in increasing demand, or throw it out and use 2019 as a baseline?  This year we used 2019 and arrived at a range of 12 to 16 guests.  There is still a risk.  My daughter may break up with her boyfriend (-1), or there may be flight delays (-2) or my wife may invite a guest who has nowhere to go (+1).

Thanksgiving Dinner

Safety Stock

With a probabilistic demand scenario figured out, we next need to determine the menu and how to supply the nutrients to meet the demand.  Since we enjoy a fresh over a frozen turkey, we’ve already placed an order for a large bird able to feed about 18 guests.  In this instance, we are choosing a bias of “safety stock” over cash flow.  We’ve over-ordered inventory but expect to use the “raw material” for other products a.k.a leftovers (see sustainability below).

Production Capacity

With only a single oven and 5 burners (+ a microwave), we need to both outsource some of the food prep and “pre-build” components of the meal in advance of the day’s activity (cranberry pecan dinner rolls were baked and frozen last week).  The attendees have each agreed to provide elements of the meal, but we are going to have to sacrifice quality in exchange for expediency.  For example, my sister-in-law is a terrible cook, so we’ve asked her to bring flowers, but she usually arrives with mini stuffed cabbages with the toothpicks used to make them still embedded in the bite.  It’s like stepping on a Lego in the roof of your mouth.


One of our guests is a vegetarian and she creates mass disruption in fulfilling the meal. We always make mac and cheese for her.  The problem is that others also like mac and cheese and if too much mac and cheese is eaten, then there is a surplus of turkey and the other fixins’ (and our vegetarian guest is left feeling a little hungry).

“Port” Issues

The capacity to produce the meal is also constrained by our capacity to serve the meal.  Our table only seats 12 comfortably, and we only have 8 matching soup bowls. It does not make good use of our limited household cash flow to purchase items that will only be used once a year.  As a result, we have to create temporary tables, reuse plates and have mismatched bowls.

Also, like with port congestion, we only have one dishwasher, and it will go through 3 cycles of cleaning.  As a result, dirty dishes stack up awaiting a rinse and the dishwasher can only be unloaded once every 90 minutes.  This disruption also affects your author’s sleep schedule as I am the one who cleans the dishes and the last load does not go in until about 11 pm.  No time for a turkey nap for me.

Dish washing


The best part of Thanksgiving dinner (besides the family – if you avoid politics and religion at the table) is how sustainable the meal is.  From one “simple meal,” the dog and cat get fed, and we make soup, tacos, chili, hash and sandwiches.  Resue is as much a part of the holiday as consumption.  And it’s only ~44 eating days before the new year and the gym.

Happy Thanksgiving from Arkieva. 

How does the supply chain apply to your Thanksgiving?  Tell us your “horror story” in the comments section.


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