Turkey prices decline due to surplus of birds as Thanksgiving planning ramps up

Wednesday, November 1, 2023
Turkey prices decline as Thanksgiving planning ramps up
It seems like prices are always increasing, but this year the traditional Thanksgiving meal centerpiece is actually getting cheaper.

Something wild has happened with turkey prices that's going to make the cost of cooking the Thanksgiving meal more palatable to families on a tight budget.

"There's been a big collapse in retail prices for turkey," said Michael Swanson, chief agriculture economist with Wells Fargo Agri-Food Institute.

"Because turkey prices are down so much, and that's the centerpiece of the meal, celebrating Thanksgiving at home will be more advantageous this year for families," he said.

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Experts are encouraging consumers to start making shopping plans early for the holiday feast with a budget in mind.

Store prices for the 10-to 15-pound turkey, typically the star of the holiday dinner, have dropped 13% in October compared to the same month last year, said Swanson.

The decrease in shelf prices for the bird also coincides with an even more dramatic 29% slump in the wholesale price for turkey this October versus a year ago, according to Wells Fargo's new Thanksgiving food report, which was released Wednesday.

The annual report analyzes the outlook for key grocery items - such as turkey, cranberries, and sweet potatoes - that comprise the quintessential Thanksgiving Day dinner. Swanson said the data is pooled from a variety of sources, including point-of-sale data from market research firm Circana and wholesale prices data from the USDA Livestock Marketing Information Center.

But the big drop in price isn't related to anything nefarious. It's the American tradition of supply and demand, and this year, there are just way too many birds.

At the farm level, Swanson said the industry in July added 2% to 3% additional birds into the barn to keep the supply robust for Thanksgiving. On top of boosting supply, he said other factors helping to reduce the price per pound of turkey include a drop in input costs such as the cost of refrigerated trucks to move supply around the country.

"A year ago, refrigerated trucks were charging $3.80 per mile on average. Now, the most recent rate quoted by the USDA was $3.30 per mile," he said. There's also more availability of trucks, which has freed up supply and brought down the cost for the food industry, he said.

Swanson anticipates consumers could get even sweeter turkey deals all through November.

"Historically we see a big drop in the two weeks before Thanksgiving," he said, adding that 84% of whole fresh turkeys are typically sold in November.

That's the period in which grocery stores deeply discount turkey as a "loss leader" item in order to drive shopper traffic during peak food shopping for the big celebration. People will come into stores for the turkeys, the thinking goes, and end up leaving with way more than they set out for - and way more profits for supermarkets.

The savings also come on top of moderating food price inflation.

So far this year through September, not adjusted for seasonal variations, grocery prices rose 2.4% - less than inflation overall, which was 3.7%.

Food price increases have been easing this year, offering much-needed relief for many households.

Paying less for the turkey could help offset still higher prices for some other components of the traditional dinner.

Looking at the rest of the meal, depending on whether you're buying them fresh, or canned, cranberries might cost you a bit more than they did last year.

The report said fresh cranberries will be about 20% less compared to last year, while canned cranberries will cost almost 60% more from the same time last year. Swanson said rising packaging and labor costs are elevating prices for canned produce overall.

It's the same story with canned pumpkins. Swanson said production costs for canned pumpkins are currently 30% higher this year from last year, and consumers are shouldering some of the price increase in store prices for the canned fruit.

And the price for canned green beans, on average, is up almost 9% versus last year, the report said.

Store prices for sweet potatoes are up about 4% "but the price is expected to come down before Thanksgiving as grocers become much more competitive with each other for consumers' dollars," said Swanson.

Russet potato prices, however, are at an all-time high.

"Consumer prices are currently up 14% from a year ago," said Swanson. "Russets come out of the Pacific Northwest. A year ago the region had a tremendous drought, which cut supply," he said. "Moving into this year's harvest, it was a much better year, and so we're expecting prices to drop."

-CNN's Danielle Wiener-Bronner contributed to this story.

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