Turkey Sticker Shock Is on the Menu for Thanksgiving

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Turkey supplies are at a multi-decade low this Thanksgiving season. That has pushed up turkey producer prices to levels not seen in years. 

Consumers who haven’t yet purchased a turkey for next week’s holiday may encounter emptier freezer shelves at grocery stores, and higher retail prices. Meanwhile, supermarkets and food service companies might be forced to absorb some of the elevated costs for turkeys, which often serve as a loss leader to draw customers needing to purchase other holiday meal items. 

Turkey producer prices are currently at $0.97 a pound, a level last seen in late 2015 when the US faced its worst-ever avian flu outbreak. The elevated prices come as turkey cold storage levels hit a 37-year low of 117,222 tonnes — 14% below a 10-year average — at the end of September, when turkey stocks typically peak. 

This Gro display compares turkey cold storage quantities, producer prices, and turkey poult placements for growth with historical averages and shows how the data series fluctuated through the year.

The reopening of the US economy as the COVID pandemic eases has many more Americans planning for Thanksgiving gatherings this year, with turkey as the main dish. Turkey producers could not have known to expect such a big pickup in demand when much of the country was under lockdown in late 2020 and early 2021, which is when producers could have made plans for this season’s turkey supplies. 

Turkey producers, warehouse operators, and distributors typically begin getting ready for Thanksgiving as far back as the previous year’s December — adjusting the number of layers, rate of slaughter, and rate of cold storage replenishment. Even as late as July 2021, turkey poult placements for growth were 8% lower than the 10-year average. 

Higher turkey prices come amid a broad-based acceleration of food price inflation. Gro’s US Food Price Index has jumped 20% in the past year, as Gro wrote about here, including a doubling in poultry prices and a 33% rise in beef prices

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