Inflation and the outbreak of bird flu are driving up the cost of Thanksgiving dinner

Inflation and a widespread outbreak of bird flu that has swept through the country’s turkey farms have combined to make it harder and more expensive to find the kind of turkey buyers sought this Thanksgiving.

And high ingredient prices for many of the Thanksgiving dinner ingredients are expected to be an issue through December.

The spread of bird flu has resulted in at least 7.5 million fewer turkeys for the holiday. The American Farm Bureau Federation said dinner will cost about 20% more than in 2021: $64.05 for 10 people, up from $53.31.

Turkeys cost about $1.15 a pound in 2021, said Dawn Thilmany, a professor of agricultural economics at Colorado State University. The price this year is around $2 a pound.

Shoppers were expected to buy smaller turkeys, turkey breasts instead of the whole bird, or switch to ham or prime rib to keep costs down, Thilmany said.

Aside from not being that plentiful, turkeys may not be as big as usual.

“One thing the industry can do to respond to the fact that they’ve lost these birds is they can get a few more birds to slaughter at a younger age than they normally would have,” said Thilmany. “That gets us closer to the number of birds, but maybe not the size they would sell optimally.”

According to a report by CoBank, seasonal cold stocks of whole turkeys are at their lowest level since 2006. While no shortages were expected, one joker was whether grocers would offer the usual promotions due to stores’ inflationary pressures, Brian Earnest, CoBank’s lead animal protein economist , said in a statement.

King Soopers on Tuesday advertised certain turkeys at 77 cents a pound on a $25 purchase. Safeway had several online promotions.

“The good news is that around Thanksgiving we tend to be a bit lavish. We make one bird too many, throw some away,” Thilmany said. “I think you’ll see that people are a bit more cautious when it comes to estimating the right amount of birds they need.”

Of course, the turkey is only part of the Thanksgiving meal.

“Turkey has never been the biggest part of what you put on the table. It’s what you think about because it’s the heart, but the amount people are spending on the pages is incredible,” Thilmany said

This Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season, those side dishes will cost even more, she added. Eggs, which are often sold at lower prices to lure buyers, could be “one of the most bloated food products,” Thilmany said.

In the past, Thilmany said, grocery stores often kept egg prices lower to entice consumers to come to their store for this important item — while shopping for other, more expensive items.

“Well, eggs might be one of the most bloated food items,” Thilmany said. “That could come as a shock to some consumers.”

Thilmany said eggs are in scarce supply due to bird flu and state laws mandating cage-free eggs, meaning laying hens shouldn’t be kept in small, cramped cages. A mandate goes into effect in Colorado on January 1, but the requirements are being phased in over two years to give farmers time to make changes.

In early November, a dozen Grade A eggs sold for an average of $2.28, more than double the previous year’s price.

Higher labor costs, driven by the need to attract low-wage workers during the pandemic, are another factor behind higher food prices, Thilmany said. Rising fuel and fertilizer costs are contributing to inflation, the American Farm Bureau said.

Thilmany said some of the biggest price increases are for the more processed items: stuffing, up 69%; pumpkin pie mix, 17%; two frozen pie crusts, up 26%; a pound of frozen peas, up 23%; and a dozen buns, up 22%.

Higher prices are hitting the most vulnerable hardest, said Thilmany, who expects food banks to stay busy over the holidays.

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