Just a few weeks ago, it looked like it was going to be a very expensive Thanksgiving. A combination of inflation and a deadly virus outbreak among birds had pushed prices for whole frozen turkeys to $1.99 a pound, up 73% from a year earlier.
Instead of continuing to climb, however, the retail price for turkeys has fallen dramatically since mid-October. The average price for a frozen whole turkey is now 96 cents a pound, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in its weekly report released Thursday. That’s still up about 8% from a year ago, but it’s a much more reasonable increase.
So what happened?
Why turkey prices are falling
First, a little about why prices have gone up: this year’s outbreak of avian flu, which is most often spread by migratory waterfowl such as ducks and geese, has resulted in the death of tens of millions of domestic chickens and turkeys.
Waterfowl “are infected but not getting sick,” Denise Derrer, director of public information for the Indiana State Board of Animal Health, told CNET. “Then they spread the virus in their feces or anywhere on earth.” Infected waterfowl can transmit influenza to other wild birds, domestic poultry and other animals, although.
This year, infections in the United States began to appear in January, and the first outbreak in turkeys at a commercial poultry site occurred in February, the CDC reported. As migratory birds complete their fall migration, there has been a drop in infections, Bernt Nelson, economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation, told CNET.
“That’s not to say we won’t see a resurgence in the spring when they return, but we’re leaving peak season for now,” Nelson said.
In September, he noted, there were about 70 bird flu outbreaks in the United States, resulting in the culling of 6.15 million birds. In October, there were 93 outbreaks, but they were located and only resulted in the culling of 2.1 million birds. This month there have been 30 confirmed outbreaks so far, affecting 1.3 million birds.
The Walmart Effect
Besides a drop in infections, there is another reason why the average price of turkeys has fallen. During the first week of November, Walmart, the largest grocery retailer in the United States with 5,335 stores, announced that it was bringing Thanksgiving staple prices back to 2021 levels.
“We’ve made significant investments in addition to our everyday low prices so customers can get a traditional Thanksgiving meal at last year’s prices,” Walmart executive vice president John Laney said in a statement. of November 3. “We have been working with suppliers for months to ensure a solid supply for all holiday meal essentials.”
Walmart now sells at least one brand of frozen whole turkeys at 98 cents a pound.
The company said its lower prices would continue through December 26. Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Other grocery chains are also lowering their prices. For example, the discount supermarket chain Aldi ison festive dishes like sweet potatoes, frozen vegetables and apple pie as part of its “Thanksgiving Price Rewind”. Aldi stores in Dallas sell a brand of frozen whole turkeys for as low as $1.07 a pound. Another discount supermarket chain, Lidl, cut turkeys to 49 cents a pound, CBS News reported.
The USDA summed up the situation in its November 10 weekly report: Retailers are lowering prices with “the intention of getting the consumer through their door.” In other words, grocers still believe in loss leaders.
Your Thanksgiving Turkey May Be Even Smaller
With avian infections declining, poultry farmers have focused on preparing birds for market. But with less time to fatten them up, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said this year’s bird may be smaller than in previous years.
“Turkeys raised now for Thanksgiving may not have all the time they need to hit 20 pounds,” Vilsack said during a Nov. 1 press briefing. “I don’t think you need to worry about whether or not you can carve your turkey on Thanksgiving,” he added. “It’s going to be there, maybe smaller, but it’s going to be there.”
Nelson from the Farm Bureau confirmed that market weights have come down to some extent: whole turkeys are around 4.5% smaller than they were in August and 7% smaller than in November 2021.
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