Nov 22, 2021 - Economy

Turkey crunch: Plenty of birds, shortage of sides

An illustration of a turkey in a bed of cash.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

This year's Thanksgiving won't be immune to the supply chain issues and labor shortages that have been roiling the nation, but the turkey supply is strong.

The big picture: You might be dealing with a pricier Thanksgiving dinner due to inflation, and you might have to find alternatives for some of your favorite side dishes. But don't fret about the main dish.

What's happening: The only turkey compromise families might have to make is buying a bigger bird than they need this year, Butterball CEO Jay Jandrain tells Axios.

  • Smaller turkeys — between 10 and 14 pounds — are in shorter supply than usual because many people are still limiting travel and having smaller gatherings this year, he says.
  • And labor shortages at meatpacking plants prompted many turkey suppliers to extend the birds' lifetimes before slaughtering and processing them. So there are just more big turkeys — 16 pounds and up — than smaller ones this year, says Jandrain.
  • One reason grocery stores may have fretted about having enough turkeys is that many people bought their birds early, he says. October turkey sales were up 200% year-over-year, per the market research firm IRI. But supply remains strong for last-minute shoppers.

Other Thanksgiving staples, however, are a different story:

  • Cranberry sauce: Ocean Spray told ABC News that its ability to supply canned sauce is being interrupted by an aluminum can shortage and transportation issues.
  • Pies: Refrigerated pies and bakery pies are slightly understocked at vendors around the country, IRI told Good Morning America.
  • Sweet potatoes: North Carolina farmers — who are responsible for about 40% of the nation's sweet potato supply — told a local TV station they would be charging more this year to offset the rising labor costs prompted by worker shortages.
  • Gravy: The canned stuff is in short supply at stores, Greg Ferrara, president and CEO of the National Grocers Association told Bloomberg Law.

The bottom line: This may be the year to start getting creative with traditional Thanksgiving favorites.

  • And if you end up with a bigger turkey than you need, start brainstorming fun ideas for leftovers.
  • Jandrain shared one with me that he's definitely trying on Friday morning: It's a waffle sandwich with turkey, gravy, and cranberry sauce in the middle — the waffle is made out of leftover stuffing.
Go deeper