As Thanksgiving draws closer and closer, many Americans being anticipating a huge Thanksgiving feast with a large, juicy golden turkey in the center of the table. After all, it’s not called Turkey Day for no reason.
While it is likely most homes will still observe the time-honored traditional meal, it will also likely come at a heftier cost than in the past, according to multiple national sources. Anyone who has taken a trip to the grocery store on a somewhat regular basis is well aware of steady price increases and the beloved turkey has not escaped that trend.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) reported that whole turkey prices (wholesale, whole hen, 8-16 pounds) have increased steadily this year. The whole turkey price chart indicates a seasonal pattern to prices with a steady yearly increase until October, right before the peak holiday demand. Current prices at $1.33 per pound are 17 cents per pound above last year.
Prices are record high with USDA predicting an average annual 2021 price at $1.21 per pound. The previous record high annual price was set in 2016 at $1.17 per pound.
The Sidney Herald did confirm both grocery stores in Sidney will be lowering the prices for their whole turkeys this coming week but an exact price per pound was not available at press time. Both stores have also been running an annual promotion offering discounts or free turkeys depending on the dollar amount purchased in-store leading up to the big day.
Both Reynold’s Market and Reese & Ray’s IGA management said they prebook their turkeys well in advance so it’s likely they avoided the price crunch seen nationwide.
Inflation is just one of the reasons for the price hike in both toms and hans. A second factor is availability. Turkey production has declined from 5.74 billion pounds last year to 5.63 billion pounds in 2021 -a 2.3% decline. USDA estimates that 214 million turkeys will be raised in the U.S. this year compared to 224 million last year.
Cold storage stock declines are a third factor. The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Cold Storage report released on Oct. 22 indicated a 17% decline in U.S. total turkey stocks from last year. Whole hen stocks were down 19%, and turkey breasts declined a whopping 51%.
Most turkey hens are sold as frozen whole birds. Toms are mostly destined for further processing and made into many consumer products such as breasts, legs, bacon, deli meats and ground turkey that are consumed the year around. Many of these products are sold in the foodservice sector which was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Not surprising, the United States is the world’s leading producer of turkeys and turkey meat as well as the world’s leading exporter of turkey meat. In 2020, Mexico was by far the leading importer of U.S. turkey meat followed by China, Canada, Guatemala and Dominican Republic.
The U.S. is also the leading producer of beef and chicken and second only to China in pork production.
Minnesota is the leading turkey-producing state with 40.5 million birds produced in 2020. North Carolina ranked second with 29 million and Arkansas as a close third with 27 million. South Dakota ranks twelfth at 4.5 million. USDA does not publish North Dakota turkey production data but according to the North Dakota Turkey Federation about one million birds are produced on nine turkey farms in the state.
According to the National Turkey Federation, about 46 million turkeys are consumed on Thanksgiving tables, 22 million are eaten at Christmas and 19 million are consumed at Easter.
Even though wholesale turkey prices are higher, consumers may be able to find bargains when shopping for Thanksgiving turkeys. Some stores contract turkeys several months in advance and retail food stores often feature turkeys as “loss leaders” at below cost to lure customers into the store to purchase higher-margin items that complete the Thanksgiving meal.