If you have hosted a holiday meal recently, you likely noticed that feeding everyone at the table costs far more this year than last.
The price of nearly all food items went up this year.
Turkey, however, saw an even more significant increase than other foods.
This large bird is a very common main course for feasts on Thanksgiving, Hannukah, and Christmas.
From COVID effects to climate change, here are ten reasons the holiday bird has gone up in price.
Why Is Turkey So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)
1. Higher Demand
Last year was the cheapest year for Thanksgiving dinner since 2010, thanks to COVID-19.
Due to the pandemic, many people had much smaller meals for Thanksgiving than usual.
Many grocery stores sold turkeys for a very low price or even gave them away for free.
This is called loss-leading and is an attempt to bring customers in to buy other holiday dish items.
This year, more people are looking to gather and dine together.
This has created a higher demand for turkeys, and when demand goes up, prices often follow.
Due to supply-chain issues, many stores had lower inventory this year.
Thus, the average price to feed 10 people on Thanksgiving this year was $53.31, up 14% from last year.
Additionally, more and more consumers are looking for turkeys that are already more expensive, including free-range, organic turkeys.
As a result, these “premium” turkeys have gone up even more in price, though standard frozen turkeys are still in demand.
2. Hurricane Ida
The storm, which first hit Louisiana on August 29, closed the Port of New Orleans for ten days.
This is a short shutdown for such a destructive storm, but it caused major disruptions to the agriculture industry.
The Port of New Orleans is a major hub for shipping soybeans, which comprise a large part of the feed farmers give to their turkeys.
The closing of Louisiana’s ports caused shipments to be rerouted, creating shipping delays.
Some containers were delivered via land routes instead, while others were sent to Pacific ports.
Shipments that were rerouted over land were more expensive than the usual river shipments.
Those that were redirected through the Pacific caused slowdowns there due to the influx of new cargo.
Even after ports on the Mississippi reopened, there was widespread damage to deal with.
Barge terminals were damaged, there were obstructions in the waterways, and power outages lasted for three weeks in some areas.
These disruptions to the delivery of soybeans created a shortage of the product, causing prices to go up for farmers.
Farmers passed these prices onto grocery stores, which passed them onto consumers.
Hurricanes haven’t just caused a shortage of soybeans, either.
Over the last five years, millions of turkeys have been killed in the storms.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2004, many farmers moved northward to avoid future injury to their livestock.
Another issue for turkey farmers this year is that crops are generally of poor quality thanks to droughts throughout the Midwest.
Extreme heat in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska have created low soil moisture.
The dry soil and hot air have caused corn and soybean crops to wilt.
As the year has progressed, the number of crops in good condition has dwindled.
The shortage of good corn and soybeans has triggered a massive increase in the prices of these crops.
Corn prices are up 11% from last year.
Corn is another major component of turkey feed.
This makes feeding turkeys expensive and difficult for farmers.
This has happened before.
In 2012, the US experienced the worst drought since the 1950s.
Due to these conditions, corn prices rose 32.5% over the course of two months.
Consequently, turkey prices also rose that year.
4. Fertilizer Prices
Yet another problem farmers are dealing with this year is a fertilizer shortage.
Farmers use nitrogen fertilizer on crops like corn and wheat.
The shortage started with Winter Storm Uri in Texas last February.
The freeze created a natural gas shortage in the United States.
Hurricane Ida in August had a similar effect.
Natural gas is a major component of nitrogen.
The shortage of nitrogen forced many fertilizer plants to shut down.
Naturally, this created a shortage of fertilizer.
The short supply caused fertilizer prices to rise substantially.
Because of the high prices, some farmers are waiting to buy their fertilizer.
This may result in an even bigger shortage down the road.
Spring is typically the busiest time of year for fertilizer purchases.
With many farmers now waiting to obtain their fertilizer, this spring will be busier.
We could see even higher prices and fewer supplies than we are now.
Currently, fertilizer prices are 80% higher than last year.
This is another factor in the rising cost of raising turkeys.
Because it is so expensive to feed turkeys right now, it costs much more to purchase them.
5. Fewer Small Turkeys Available
In addition to problems on farms, other parts of the turkey supply chain have been disrupted.
Thanks to COVID-19, holiday gatherings are still smaller than average.
Because of this, many are looking for smaller turkeys than in past years.
These small turkeys, however, are not as readily available as in most years.
Representatives from turkey suppliers note that there is the same total amount of turkey on the market this year.
However, much of it could not be processed as in years past.
This is due to shortages at processing plants.
Because of these shortages, turkeys spent more time on farms before processing plants could take them.
While waiting on the farms, they got bigger.
Therefore, most turkeys in stores right now are larger than the birds most consumers are looking for.
Since smaller turkeys are in higher demand and shorter supply than usual, they are more expensive and harder to find.
Representatives from Butterball, a major turkey supplier, say that 10–14-pound turkeys are in the highest demand.
People looking for turkeys in the 16-pound range, however, shouldn’t have a problem finding them.
6. COVID-19 Costs In Plants
When COVID-19 first hit, meatpacking plants where turkey is processed and packaged were designated as “essential businesses.”
Many remained open during the pandemic.
Due to the virus, however, plants had to adjust how they ran.
Typically, workers in the plants work closely together for long periods of time.
This would put workers at risk of contracting the virus.
To keep workers safe, many plants adjusted the logistics of their day-to-day operations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that workers stand six feet apart.
This means fewer workers can be on one line at a time.
The CDC also suggests that a physical barrier be placed between workers who stand facing each other on either side of an assembly line.
These precautions were added at many plants, in addition to providing personal protective equipment such as masks.
Providing all these protections to workers required time and money.
These costs are passed on to the consumers purchasing the meat.
7. Labor Shortages in Processing Facilities
Many industries around the world are dealing with labor shortages right now.
The meatpacking industry is no exception.
Even with the extra protections put in place, workers in meatpacking plants are among those at the highest risk of contracting the virus.
Some plants have around 20% of their workers absent due to illness on any given day.
More than 50,000 meatpacking plant workers have contracted COVID-19 since March 2020.
Another reason for the labor shortage in these plants is tied to immigration.
Due to the dangers of working in a meat processing plant, it can be difficult to find workers willing to take the risks.
Therefore, meatpacking plants have historically relied on immigrant workers to fill these roles.
Many immigrants feel they must take whatever job they can get, due to language barriers or citizenship status.
This often means they take dangerous jobs that American-born citizens won’t.
Over the last several years, more laws restricting immigration have been passed.
This means fewer immigrants are entering the country.
Industries with higher percentages of immigrant workers are seeing the worst labor shortages.
This includes the meatpacking industry.
Some states are concerned that if more foreign visas aren’t provided, plants will have to shut down.
This would make food prices, including turkey prices, rise even more.
8. Fuel Prices
In order to ship turkey, companies use refrigerated trucks.
The cost to get these trucks from the plants where turkey is packaged to the grocery stores where it is sold depends largely on fuel prices.
The cost to transport goods has gone up significantly over the past year, partly due to fuel prices.
Currently, fuel prices are higher than they have been since 2014.
The reasons for the increase in energy prices are similar to the reasons behind rising prices in other industries.
First is plain old supply-and-demand.
As the United States opens back up after COVID-19 closures, more Americans are hitting the road.
Since more people are driving, more fuel is needed.
Hurricane Ida impacted fuel prices, too.
After the hurricane, some drilling sites and refineries near the Gulf of Mexico were shut down.
Like the ports, the shutdowns didn’t last long.
The effects, however, are lingering.
The supply of crude oil has not rebounded since the hurricane hit in August.
The problems aren’t just at home, either.
The United States imports a lot of oil from other countries, mostly in the Middle East.
These countries have resisted the call to increase oil production.
This means that as demand for fuel increases, the supply isn’t increasing with it.
Finally, as mentioned previously, corn prices are high right now.
Corn is used to make ethanol, which is a component of the fuel we put in our cars.
When corn prices rise, so too do ethanol prices.
This impacts overall gas prices, which affect the cost of transportation, which leads to a higher price tag on your turkey.
9. Driver Shortages
Just like in meatpacking plants, the transportation industry is facing a shortage of long-haul truckers.
The trucking industry is currently short 80,000 drivers.
During the pandemic, many truckers were laid off or quit, and now companies are having a hard time hiring them back.
This has helped create a shortage of many foods in grocery stores.
The truck driving industry has long had a problem retaining drivers.
A large part of the dilemma is the pay structure.
Truckers get paid per mile driven.
That means that the most profitable thing they can do is drive.
Unfortunately, sometimes truckers arrive at a farm or factory, and their inventory isn’t ready for them.
This means they have to wait, and they aren’t paid for waiting around.
Additionally, federal law states that truckers can only drive 11 hours out of every 24.
This limits the amount of money truckers can make.
Another problem for long-haul truckers is a lack of safe rest areas.
Because truckers are mandated to rest every 14 hours, they need places to park and sleep.
However, many stretches of the road go on for hundreds of miles without well-lit, staffed rest areas.
This means truckers must stop in remote areas, which isn’t safe.
Truckers have been robbed or killed when resting.
To try and entice people to drive trucks for a living, some companies have given truckers huge raises.
One company even says it is hiring truckers from out of state and paying for them to come live in local hotels.
These extra expenses for food suppliers and trucking companies are reflected in the price of food.
10. General Cost Of Raising Turkeys
Even in ordinary times, a turkey will cost more than smaller poultry like chicken.
This is because turkeys don’t reach slaughter size for 16–28 weeks, depending on the breed.
Chickens, on the other hand, can be butchered at 6–14 weeks.
The extra time spent raising turkeys also means more food and resources used.
Because raising turkeys requires more of the farmers’ time and money, the cost to purchase turkey meat is higher than that of chicken.
How To Save Money On Your Holiday Meals
Despite all the issues getting a turkey from farm to table, deals can still be found.
Don’t let this season’s prices keep you from having the feast of your dreams.
If the price of turkey is going to break the bank for you this holiday season, here are a few tricks you can employ to save some money.
1. Buy Early
It may be a little late for this holiday season, but generally, the earlier you buy your bird, the cheaper you can get it.
If you buy a frozen turkey, you can keep it for several months before cooking it.
If you wait until just a few days before your meal, you’ll have to buy a fresh turkey due to thaw time.
This will cost you more money.
2. Shop Deals
Some stores offer free or inexpensive turkeys along with purchases over a certain dollar amount.
Often, these deals will require you to join the store’s membership program.
This, however, is often free and can save you even more money on other items as well.
These deals often don’t last past Thanksgiving, though, so it’s important to plan ahead.
The Ibotta app also offers 100% cash back on turkeys bought at Walmart around Thanksgiving time.
You’ll just need to create a free account.
Then you’ll be able to browse deals on turkey and many other food items.
It’s important to remember that Ibotta is a cash-back app, so you will need to pay for the turkey up front.
3. Consider Your Needs
If you aren’t hosting a lot of people, a smaller turkey or turkey parts will do.
Smaller turkeys are harder to find this year, but if you can snag one, you can save quite a bit.
The average turkey costs $1.35 per pound this year.
That puts a 16-pound turkey at $21.60, as opposed to $13.50 for a 10-pounder.
Plan to purchase about one pound of turkey per person at your table.
If you really don’t need much turkey, you can find a turkey breast.
This won’t yield the biggest per-pound savings, but your total at the register will be lower.
4. Eat Leftovers
Possibly the best part of holiday meals is the leftovers afterward.
If you can’t find a small or cheap turkey, you can make a large one last for days.
You can find plenty of leftover turkey recipes online.
This will ensure nothing goes to waste, making your holiday turkey worth every penny.