Cooking Thanksgiving dinner will be more expensive this year thanks to inflation — but the traditional main course has soared in price for another reason.
Turkey production is down significantly in 2022 because the industry is dealing with what could soon become the worst year ever of avian flu outbreaks for poultry. When cases of the virus are detected, whole flocks have to be culled.
The disruption to turkey production is driving wholesale prices higher, which typically means higher prices for consumers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, reports that the outbreaks of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in 2022 have been significant. In total, more than 7 million turkeys have been killed this year due to avian flu, according to the USDA. The most recent wave of infections has impacted Minnesota, California and Utah farms.
Turkeys are particularly vulnerable to avian flu, which is transmitted by wild birds. For farms, it takes months to return to turkey production after an outbreak because there are lengthy decontamination processes. For consumers, it sets off a chain reaction, driving up prices right before a holiday during which Americans eat some 46 million turkeys.
Why turkey prices are so high
Turkey production is expected to be 10% lower for the third quarter of 2022 than it was in 2021, according to the USDA, and production is forecasted to remain lower through Thanksgiving and beyond as a result of this year's avian flu issues (which don't pose a risk to humans). When supply falls and demand stays the same, prices tend to rise.
A new report by PayPal subsidiary Honey, a tool for discount shopping, found that turkey prices are 22% higher this year compared to last year. Other Thanksgiving grocery items have also gotten a lot more expensive due to the economic environment. Pumpkins, for instance, are up in price by 24%.
But poultry is the biggest problem. According to the government’s most recent inflation report, the cost of uncooked poultry, including turkey, has risen in the past year by significantly more than the 13% overall increase in grocery prices.
Despite the upward trends in turkey prices, more than 90% of Americans say they will have the same size turkey or a larger one than last year, according to a survey from Butterball, the largest turkey processor in the U.S.
If you want to plan ahead, many grocers and butchers will let you reserve a turkey now, which can take some stress out of preparing your feast, especially if it's going to be harder to find turkeys this Thanksgiving. That's an important step to take if you plan to gobble gobble next month.