Inflation and a widespread outbreak of bird flu that has swept through the country’s turkey farms have combined to make it tougher and more expensive to find the kind of turkey shoppers are looking for this Thanksgiving.
And the high prices for the ingredients for many of the Thanksgiving dinner fixings are expected to be an issue into December.
The spread of avian influenza has resulted in at least 7.5 million fewer turkeys for the holiday. The American Farm Bureau Federation said dinner will cost about 20% more than in 2021: $64.05 for 10 people, up from $53.31.
Turkeys cost about $1.15 per pound in 2021, said Dawn Thilmany, a professor of agricultural economics at Colorado State University. The price is around $2 a pound this year.
Shoppers were expected to buy smaller turkeys, turkey breasts instead of the whole bird or switch to ham or prime rib to keep costs down, Thilmany said.
Besides not being as plentiful, turkeys might not be as big as usual.
“One thing the industry can do to respond to the fact that they lost those birds is they can bring a few more birds to slaughter at a younger age than they would have normally done,” Thilmany said. “That gets us closer to the number of birds, but maybe not at the size they would optimally sell them.”
A report by CoBank said seasonal cold storage inventories of whole turkeys are at their lowest level since 2006. Although no shortages were expected, a wildcard was whether grocers would offer the usual promotions due to the stores’ pressure from inflation, Brian Earnest, lead animal protein economist with CoBank, said in a statement.
King Soopers was advertising certain turkeys for 77 cents a pound with a $25 purchase on Tuesday. Safeway had several online promotions.
“The good news is we tend to be a little wasteful around Thanksgiving. We overmake a bird, throw some of it out,” Thilmany said. “I think you’re going to see people be a little more careful about estimating the right amount of bird they need.”
Of course, turkey is just one part of the Thanksgiving meal.
“Turkey has never been the biggest part of what you put on the table. It’s what you think of because it’s the centerpiece, but the amount people spend on sides in incredible,” said Thilmany
This Thanksgiving and into the rest of the holiday season, those side dishes are going to cost even more, she added. Eggs, often sold at lower prices to entice shoppers, might be “one of the most inflated food products,” Thilmany said.
In the past, Thilmany said grocery stores often kept egg prices lower as a way to entice consumers to come to their store for this essential item – and buy other, higher-priced products in the process.
“Now, eggs might be one of the most inflated food products,” Thilmany said. “That might be a shock to some consumers.”
Thilmany said eggs are in shorter supply because of the avian flu and state laws mandating cage-free eggs, meaning that laying hens are not supposed to be kept in small, cramped cages. A mandate takes effect in Colorado Jan. 1, but the requirements will be phased in over two years to give farmers time to make changes.
In early November, a dozen Grade A eggs were selling for an average of $2.28, more than double the price from the prior year.
Higher labor costs driven by the need to lure lower-wage workers during the pandemic are another factor in higher food prices, Thilmany said. Rising fuel and fertilizer costs are adding to inflation, the American Farm Bureau said.
Thilmany said some of the biggest price increases are for the more processed items: stuffing, up 69%; pumpkin pie mix, 17%; two frozen pie crusts, up 26%; one pound of frozen peas, up 23%; and one dozen dinner rolls, up 22%.
Higher prices hit the most vulnerable the hardest, said Thilmany, who expects food banks to remain busy throughout the holidays.
The Denver Rescue Mission’s goal was to collect about 15,000 turkeys this Thanksgiving to distribute to families in need and other nonprofits and churches. The Rescue Mission ended up with more than 14,000 turkeys and gave out 2,919 of its Thanksgiving food boxes Tuesday at Empower Field at Mile High.
“We haven’t been able to purchase as many turkeys from providers as we have in the past,” said Rescue Mission spokesman Stephen Hinkel. “We’re reaching out to other grocers that we haven’t worked with before.”
Safeway and Red Bird Farms have been helpful, Hinkel said. Individuals have donated more money this year instead of actual turkeys.
The Denver Rescue Mission, a Christian organization that provides meals and shelters, said Tuesday that it will remove recently added anti-LGBTQ language to its employee handbook. The organization has an $8.7 million contract with the city and Mayor Michael Hancock and Councilwoman Robin Kneich were among those denouncing the language, first reported by Denverite.
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