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Why Thanksgiving Turkeys are Much More Expensive This Year

Thanksgiving Turkey
The price of Thanksgiving turkeys has risen as much as 20% this year. Credit: Tuchodi, CC BY 2.0

The American Farm Bureau reported on Monday that the prices of Thanksgiving turkeys and other holiday meal mainstays have skyrocketed in 2021. The Bureau estimates that the cost for entire Thanksgiving meal has gone up 14% from last year, with the turkey alone rising a staggering 27% in some cases.

This price hike is caused by the inflation that has been ravaging the economy due to an asymmetrical ratio between consumer demand and available labor.

The Bureau compiled a ‘standard’ Thanksiving meal meant to feed a gathering of ten people, comprised of sweet potatoes, vegetables, bread rolls, pie, and turkey, all coming in at $53.31, 14% over 2020’s receipt. 2021 marks the first year since 2015 where the price of the holiday meal has risen rather than dropped.

“The inflation is real. Everybody is saying that. Everybody is feeling it,” said  Jay Jandrain, CEO and President of Butterball, a company that manufactures turkey and other food products. “Whether it’s labor, transportation, packaging materials, energy to fuel the plants — everything costs more.”

Inflation and labor shortages have shaken up food manufacturers

Butterball produces one third of all Thanksgiving turkeys in the nation. The company has suffered from a labor shortage in 2021, which has resulted in a lag in their production. While the company was unable to transport their turkeys the birds grew larger and required more food, adding to Butterball’s expenses.

Jandrain noted that the North-Carolina based Butterball was able to overcome these labor issues by the time the holiday season rolled around, and is fully equipped to transport its birds to stores across the country, so there will be no meals missing turkeys this year, but their will be bigger portions:

“The good news about that is everybody loves the after-Thanksgiving leftovers, and they are going to have more of them this year.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that the average wholesale price of a standard frozen turkey just weeks before Thanksgiving was $1.35 per pound, a 21% increase from 2020.

But its likely that these prices are not a 2021 anomaly. Jandrain believes that the price tag on turkeys may climb even higher well into 2022, as the cost of sustaining turkeys–as well as general labor and transportation shortages–persist.

Despite the grim outlook on Thanksgiving inflation, shoppers have reported that their more urgent concern is the availability of turkeys rather than the price. Which is to say, as long as it means securing the traditional Thanksgiving meal, most people will pay any price for their turkey.

Lauren Knapp, an economist based in upstate New York, told the Associated Press that she purchased two frozen turkeys weeks in advance of Thanksgiving, out of fear of scarcity. Knapp and her family have decided to make their Thanksgiving meal a trial-run for a bigger Christmas celebration.

“Friends in D.C. were saying it would be a chicken Thanksgiving because they can’t find turkey anywhere,” said Knapp, who eventually walked away from the store with two turkeys in tow.

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