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The price of US turkeys has nearly doubled in two years

Mother and daughter shop for turkey at a Walmart.
REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian
It’s that time of year again.
  • Michelle Cheng
By Michelle Cheng

Reporter based in New York

Published Last updated

A Thanksgiving meal is going to cost more this year.

The price of a turkey climbed 68% over the last two years, from 81 cents a pound in January 2019 to $1.36 in September, according to a Wells Fargo analysis of US Department of Agriculture (USDA) data that looked at whole birds ranging from eight to 16 pounds. That means a 16-pound turkey will cost $21.76, whereas, it cost $12.96 two years ago. Overall, the cost of food has been on the rise this year, driven by soaring beef prices.

Why are turkey prices going up?

Part of the price increase stems from labor shortages at the turkey producers.

But the production of turkey has also been on a steady decline for some time. The expected output will likely be the lowest since 2015, when a Midwest flu epidemic wiped out the turkey flocks for several producers. Four years later, the food production giant Cargill shut down its whole fresh and frozen turkey production in Texas. The company did not give a reason for the decision. But, at that time, there was too much supply, which depressed prices, according to Kevin Bergquist, a Wells Fargo food and agribusiness consultant, who wrote the report.

During the pandemic, there’s been increased demand for turkeys, particularly as more families have been turning to home-cooked meals, which reduced both cold and fresh storages. That said, the high prices are likely going to push turkey growers to increase production, which could result in lower prices relatively soon. Unlike other livestock, the growth period for turkeys is generally shorter, ranging from four to nine months.

Overall, food prices will remain inflated during the holidays, but there isn’t likely going to be a shortage of turkeys, said Bergquist. After dealing with past shortages such as toilet paper at the height of the pandemic, supermarkets planned ahead of the season to make sure they have enough supply.

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