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Let's Talk Turkey

November 11, 2022 Kevin Baxter

Turkey Dinner

Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away, and the centerpiece of most tables for this annual holiday feast is the turkey. To offer some context, it's estimated roughly 293 million Americans will consume 46 million turkeys this year. For context, the population of the U.S. is estimated at 331 million, making it 88% of Americans putting white meat, dark meat or a mix of the two on their plates. But with inflation and other supply chain issues, as shoppers look to pick out their bird for 2022, what will they find? The consensus seems to be that just as with many other groceries, they'll find turkeys are a bit pricier than they've been in the past. Based on the consumption estimates, Americans are expected to spend $1.1 billion on turkey this year, up from $985 million last year. The average price of a turkey is up roughly 15%, with frozen up about 10% and fresh about 20% over 2021. Not ideal, but not surprising in these inflationary times. Another factor at play affecting the price - and also leading to concerns of a turkey shortage (more on that below) - is Avian Flu, which has affected poultry supply and prices throughout the year.

Is there a turkey shortage in 2022?

The question of whether or not there is a turkey shortage in 2022 depends on the type of turkey shoppers are looking for. On the frozen side, there's no indication of any type of shortfall. In fact, the USDA has the amount of whole turkeys in cold storage actually 12% higher than last year. That means finding a frozen bird should be no problem at all. On the other hand, due in large part to that Avian Flu outbreak - one of which occurred early in the year and another wave in the last couple of months - the supply of fresh turkeys is more limited. The USDA estimates 7.15 million meat-producing turkeys were lost this year due to the disease, so that means fewer fresh gobblers and - according to some experts - it may be harder to find larger fresh turkeys in particular due to lack of time for them to get up to sizes of 20 pounds or more. That means if fresh is a preference, consumers should get their orders in as soon as possible to reserve one for Thanksgiving. Otherwise, frozen is a viable alternative that shows no signs of shortage - just remember to give it a few days to thaw.

What is the Thanksgiving turkey supply chain?

The Thanksgiving turkey supply chain follows other supply chains that start in the agricultural realm before reaching food sellers like grocery stores. In the U.S., a few states account for most of the turkey supply. They are Minnesota, North Carolina, Arkansas, Indiana, Missouri, Virginia, Iowa and California. When it comes to whole birds, 90% of those consumed are frozen, while 10% are fresh. That means with frozen turkeys, the concern is building up adequate supply and staging inventory especially ahead of spikes in demand like the Thanksgiving season. The shipping process in this case can proceed without too much urgency. The fresh turkey supply chain is a more traditional farm to table setup that also requires more specific time management, as fresh turkeys have just a 21 day shelf life, so proximity and transportation scheduling are more vital factors. In both cases though, temperature-controlled freight is key, whether to keep frozen turkeys frozen or to keep fresh ones from spoiling. 

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