Nov 19, 2021 - Business

Fewer turkeys, higher costs ahead of Thanksgiving

Turkeys at a turkey farm

Bronze turkeys ready for market. Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

As Thanksgiving nears, economists warn that broader supply chain issues have trickled down to turkeys this holiday season.

The big picture: If you haven't bought a turkey yet for your feast, now's the time. Labor shortages and higher feed costs have jolted inventory and prices, according to David Anderson, professor and extension economist at Texas A&M University's department of agricultural economics.

Frozen turkey inventory is down 24% below the three-year average, a recent USDA report found.

  • "Trucking costs, labor costs, all of these other things rippling through the whole economy affect turkeys, too," Anderson told Axios.

Zoom out: Demand for turkeys, especially larger ones, declined last year as consumers opted for smaller Thanksgiving gatherings amid a spike in COVID cases. That uncertainty continued into early this year as poultry plants made decisions about their supply.

  • "You've got a whole bunch of uncertainty as to what size turkey should I try to grow this year when I don't know what’s going to happen," Anderson said.
  • Even prior to the pandemic, consumer demand for turkeys shifted as shoppers opt for new plates on their holiday tables.
    • "It doesn't take much of that change among consumers just trying new things to have an effect on that demand," Anderson said.

Yes, but: Most major grocery retailers are offering their usual Thanksgiving specials, despite supply issues and price increases in the last three years.

What they're saying: H-E-B spokesperson Leslie Sweet, commenting on the supply chain, said the stores "are in strong supply," and they "continue to restock products daily."

  • "We may have purchasing limits on certain items, but temporary limits are a proven way to ensure product availability for customers," Sweet said in an email. "At H-E-B, having the products our customers want when they need them is our top priority."

Wheatsville Food Co-Op purchasing director Westley Skidmore said the co-operative was able to get in its turkey order, but "we did have to place the order earlier than normal, and we were not able to expand on the order as we were in years past."

  • Skidmore said Wheatsville was not able to secure local turkeys this year due to demand, and instead ordered more Mary's Turkeys to ensure that every customer would get a bird. However, it appears that their stores will sell out if orders continue at their current pace, Skidmore said.
  • Wheatsville also raised turkey prices, as it has with many items this year: "With supply being down and labor shortages, unfortunately we are not able to keep prices as low as they have been in the past," Skidmore added.

Wholesale turkey prices were around $1.41 per pound last week — up from $1.13 per pound a year ago, per the USDA.


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