Every corner of the turkey market is stretched thin. Restaurants can’t get orders filled. Deli owners are scrambling to find sliced turkey breast. Shoppers are paying as much as 112 percent more for fresh, skinless turkey breasts than they were last year. The fast-food chain Arby’s is warning customers that turkey sandwiches are not available for online ordering, and has posted “temporarily out of stock” on menu boards at some stores, leading to much grumbling on social media.
Most producers, retailers and market analysts don’t think meat cases will be empty. Contracts for most frozen turkeys were signed in the first quarter, some of them before the nation’s first case of avian influenza in a commercial flock was detected at an Indiana turkey farm on Feb. 8. And much of the nation’s supply of frozen birds has been ready to go for months.
But still, shoppers shouldn’t expect the options they’ve enjoyed in the past
“They’ll find a turkey of some kind. It just might not be that nice 10-pounder,” said Russ Whitman, senior vice president at Urner Barry, the price reporting agency that specializes in perishable proteins. “It’s essentially a ‘you’re going to take what you get and feel good about it’ situation.”
He and others predict that prices will continue to rise in the coming weeks. On Wednesday, the wholesale price for a hen, the bird most people eat for Thanksgiving, was $1.85 a pound, about 40 cents higher than a year ago. At the beginning of 2019, it was 90 cents, Mr. Whitman said.
Exactly what that means for shoppers is unclear. This week, the average retail price for a frozen turkey is $1.99 a pound, according to the agriculture department’s weekly turkey report. That is up 73 percent from 2021.
But turkey prices can vary wildly. Grocers are just beginning to announce their holiday promotions, which have often included inexpensive or free turkeys to lure shoppers.
The odds of finding a specific size and type of bird for a reasonable price are worse for people who buy fresh turkeys, which account for about 30 percent of Thanksgiving sales, according to the consumer data firm Numerator. About 80 percent of all fresh whole turkeys are sold in November.