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Fears of a turkey "shortage" appear overblown in the Midwest

Nam Y. Huh
AP Photo

Bad news headlines about turkey shortages and higher prices for the traditional holiday feast may have prompted some people to consider a new menu for Thanksgiving dinner. But it turns out the news here, in the Midwest, isn’t so dire.

The American Farm Bureau report, released on Thursday, predicted that a traditional Thanksgiving dinner would cost 14% more this year than it did last year. Nationally, turkey prices are 24% higher according to the survey conducted by “volunteer shoppers” who checked prices Oct. 26 to Nov. 8 in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Pandemic supply chain disruptions, inflation and high fuel prices are among the reasons cited for the increase.

Mark Jordan is a livestock and poultry economist. He works for a company in Arkansas that follows livestock and poultry markets.

Jordan said reports that whole turkeys have skyrocketed, are in short supply and that stores are offering fewer deals are overblown, particularly in Southwest Michigan and the rest of the Midwest.

“I feel like to use some of the words of there’s a ‘shortage’ or there’s ‘extreme inflation,’ that is, you know maybe overhyping just a little bit. There’s some good deals to be had and I would say that there’s plenty of turkey to go around, especially in certain areas, Midwest would be one,” said Jordan. “So, I don’t think this would feel like too much of an odd or different holiday in terms of going without the whole bird for some reason.”

Jordan pointed to another report that also came out last week.

On Friday, the day after the Farm Bureau released its results, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its survey of advertised turkey prices at major retail supermarkets for the week before Thanksgiving. The USDA report broke its findings down by eight regions, including Alaska and Hawaii. While turkey prices are higher across the country, the survey found turkey sold in the Midwest averaged 32-cents per pound less than the national average. That’s because Midwest states are close to producers and processing plants which helps keep transportation costs down.

“The Midwest is fortunate, and the Southeast U.S.”, said Jordan. “Retail prices are still skewing toward the lower end relative to the rest of the nation.” 

The USDA report found fewer stores advertising deals this year.  Last year 89% of the stores sampled advertised sales on whole turkey, this year 72% of the stores sampled did. But Jordan says there are still plenty of specials to be had, like a free turkey with a minimum purchase.

To find out more, WMUK requested state-specific survey results for Michigan from The American Farm Bureau. In an email, a Bureau spokesperson said results for Michigan are not available because volunteer shoppers in Michigan don’t complete five or more basket surveys.

Undeterred, I did my own informal survey of several Kalamazoo-area groceries stores this week. Prices for a majority of fresh and frozen whole turkeys were advertised at less than a dollar a pound, between 33-cents and 99-cents. Only one store surveyed required a minimum purchase to get the sale price.

“I feel like most people would feel like this is a normal holiday,” Jordan said. “They’ve gotten a bird and are probably very comfortable with the price, might be very thrilled about the price, because, as you mention, there are deals out there: 29, 39, 49-cents a pound in some areas and at more aggressive retailers.”

While it may be too late to buy and defrost a frozen turkey, Jordan said Southwest Michigan shoppers should still be able to find a fresh turkey at a reasonable price, even on the day before Thanksgiving.

“You can definitely find deals. Ah yeah, prices are incrementally higher, supplies are incrementally tighter, but I would say generally speaking this is going to feel like a fairly normal holiday.”