Thanksgiving turkeys cost more and are in shorter supply this year

Photo (c) Maren Caruso - Getty Images

Agriculture experts say consumers can find one if they are willing to compromise

If you go in for traditional Thanksgiving dinners, with turkey and all the trimmings, next week’s holiday may pose something of a challenge. Turkeys cost more, and there may be fewer of them at your neighborhood supermarket.

While supply chain issues may be partly to blame, there are also other factors at work. David Anderson, a livestock economist at Texas A&M, says U.S. turkey production was down 5% this year when compared to 2020. He said producers reduced flocks because the cost of both labor and feed have gone up.

Demand is also likely to be greater this year. In 2020, with COVID-19 raging and no vaccines available, there were fewer family gatherings. Many families are planning to make up for that this year.

Turkey prices spike ahead of Thanksgiving

With fewer turkeys, increased demand, and higher transportation costs, economists say consumers can expect to pay more than usual for a holiday bird if they can find one to their liking.

Turkey prices the week before Thanksgiving range from about $1.50 to $2.30 a pound, according to Gregory Martin, a poultry educator with the Penn State Extension Department. He tells Lancaster Farming, an agriculture website in Pennsylvania, that much of the increased cost is due to shipping difficulties. 

While producers raised fewer turkeys this year, Martin says he doesn’t foresee a turkey shortage. However, with tighter than normal supplies, he says shoppers may have to compromise.

“There might be fewer turkeys, so you may have to take what’s there,” Martin said. “There’s going to be birds, but with this panic buying, it may not be the right size you’re looking for.”

Smaller birds are harder to come by

In particular, small birds may be harder to come by this year. Industry experts say large turkeys, those that 16 pounds or more, may be the most plentiful.

Meanwhile, chefs point out that there are many perfectly acceptable turkey alternatives. One of the most obvious ones is plant-based turkey, which has grown in popularity in recent years. According to Forbes, an estimated 4.5 million plant-based turkeys will grace Thanksgiving tables this year.

Some chefs suggest taking a break from turkey this year since there appears to be plenty of other holiday meats to choose from, including ham, pork, and beef. They say cornish game hens, served with an abundance of vegetables and casseroles, also make a nice holiday spread.

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