The traditional Thanksgiving feast costs more this year because of market forces such as labor and fuel costs, a deadly, widespread avian influenza and general inflation, according to commodity trackers.
Wholesale turkey prices, which reached a record high last year, have been increased again by almost 40 percent, from $1.39 a pound last year to $1.79 a pound this year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The price of poultry has risen because of the loss of nearly 48 million commercial birds, including broilers, egg-laying chickens, turkeys and various other fowl afflicted with avian flu in 42 states, the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reported.
Turkey production was down 5 percent this year compared with last year, the department found.
“I saw that the virus wiped out 50,000 turkeys at a farm in California, and it’s happening to other poultry farms,” said David Anderson, a Texas A&M University AgriLife Extension economist working in Bryan-College Station. “These occurrences have dramatically impacted wholesale turkey prices and availability for some businesses.”
Avian flu has been especially devastating because of how long it takes to grow a turkey, Anderson said. Eggs incubate for 28 days and it takes another 10 to 18 weeks for the hatchlings to reach harvest weight, Anderson said. This means that it could take three-and-a-half to five-and-a-half months to replace a flock lost to the flu, Anderson said.
A shortage of birds is of less concern for whole turkey buyers, because major grocers prioritize whole birds for Thanksgiving a year in advance and have only seen a 3 percent decrease in cold storage stocks, Anderson said.
These findings were confirmed locally, according to Randall’s Galveston meat market manager Ernest Dugas.
“There has been a stable market for turkeys here,” Dugas said. “We have plenty of birds from 8 to 24 pounds. We have a whole three pallets of turkeys left for the island, tourists, and we even expect to have some left over.”
Because of inflation, H-E-B actually has sold its birds at a loss, company representatives said.
“We know that some of the prices are going up, but we are doing our best to keep things as stable as possible, so H-E-B has slashed its turkey prices from $1.45 a pound to $.45 a pound,” said Lisa Helfman, senior director of Public Affairs, for H-E-B Houston. “H-E-B is not experiencing a shortage of turkeys. We have ensured that customers will have plenty of sizes and brands to choose from in stores.”
Grocers typically slash the price of turkeys the day before Thanksgiving, Anderson said. Grocers, including Randalls, also offer enticing deals to shoppers, including a free turkey with a $75 purchase at the store.
Supply hasn’t been the issue for other grocers, including Kroger in Galveston, but there’s a lack of options and sizes, according to meat manager Jeff Soler.
“We have seen a slight rise in the prices, but the main problem is from delivery and the lack of truck drivers,” Soler said. “We only have a small number of brands and our turkeys are only about 10 to 14 pounds. Supply is not an issue, but options are.”
The burden of the diminished flock hasn’t fallen on big-box grocers, but smaller-scale buyers, local meat markets and restaurants, because the wholesalers are unwilling to part with stock, Anderson said.
“It’s not that they’re high-priced, it’s that they can’t even get them, and that’s really hurting those smaller buyers,” Anderson said.
To make matters worse, food prices will be up 9.5 percent to 10.5 percent this year, which have historically only risen 2 percent annually, the United States Department of Agriculture found.
In addition to the turkey, other Thanksgiving staples are more expensive this year, including canned pumpkin — the price of a 30-ounce can is up 17 percent from last year, according to market researcher Datasembly.
Nestle-owned Libby’s, which produces 85 percent of the world’s canned pumpkin, said harvests were in line with previous years, but it had to compensate for higher labor, transportation fuel and energy costs.
Even the cheapest parts of the meal have risen, with a 16-ounce box of stuffing costing 14 percent more than last year, Datasemby said. A 5-pound bag of Russet potatoes averaged $3.26 the second week of November, 45.5 percent higher than a year ago.
Consumers are feeling the pinch, including Texas City shopper Bridget Benefield.
“There has definitely been a big increase in prices,” Benefield said. “We have had to cut back on what we are making and how much. It is hard to get out of the grocery store without spending $75 because of this inflation.”
Not every part of your plate will be costlier, with a good harvest of cranberries prices were up less than 5 percent between the end of September and the beginning of November, said Paul Mitchell, an agricultural economist and professor at the University of Wisconsin.
Green beans cost just 2 cents more a pound in the second week of November, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.