Turkey processors report tighter supplies, higher prices for holiday birds

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 400 views 

Turkey is the main feature on Thanksgiving Day for many U.S. families but following a year of supply chain issues, inflationary prices and workforce shortages, turkey industry executives say consumers will pay more and smaller birds are in short supply.

Consumer Reports estimates turkey prices will rise between 10% and 15% this holiday season over a year ago and they could be the most expensive on record. Butterball CEO Jay Jandrain recently said Thanksgiving turkey will be harder to find and prices will be higher. He said Butterball, which has farmers and processing operations in Arkansas, does not expect there to be a shortage of turkeys, but there will be fewer small birds this year.

“Consumers should go out to the stores and get them as early as you can,” he said. “We have heard from many of our retailers who are ordering additional turkeys now because sales have been brisk a little earlier than usual,” Jandrain said. ”We do expect a pretty significant sell-through this season.”

Cargill-owned Shady Brook Farms also reports it continues to struggle with production delays because of labor issues. Cargill said it continues to manage through tight labor markets while also working to keep employees safe from COVID-19 and the variants. Company officials have said overall frozen bird production remains the same compared to previous years though average bird weights are slightly higher for fresh and frozen birds due to processing delays. A large bird is more than 16 pounds.

U.S. turkey eggs in incubators totaled 26.8 million on Aug. 1, down 1% from Aug. 1, 2020, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. Turkey poults hatched in July totaled 22.6 million, down 5% from the prior year.

Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics, said most retailers made their orders many months ago and there will be enough turkeys for consumers. She said supply side issues, labor shortages and higher feed costs will result in higher prices for consumers and compressed margins for processors. Freezer supplies are also low headed into the Thanksgiving holiday.

Marketing intelligence firm IRI reports shoppers should prepare to make substitutions for some traditional foods given supply chain risks in certain categories. Inventories for whipped toppings, liquid gravy, bakery pies and frozen pastry and pie shells were running between 5 and 13% lower this week compared to the period last year. Roerink said there will be ample meat available but prices will be higher than they have been in recent years. She said ham and rack of lamb prices are also higher this year.

Stephens Inc. reports whole bird wholesale turkey prices rose to $1.30 per pound this week compared to $1 per pound a year ago. Prices have been elevated since August. The five-year average price is 90 cents per pound, some 44% cheaper than wholesale whole bird turkey prices this week.