Thanksgiving Turkeys Cost More Than Ever After Bird Flu Wipeout

To make sure all 15 of the Busch’s Fresh Food Market stores had enough turkeys over 22 pounds (10 kilograms) to sell for Thanksgiving this month, meat buyer John Taormina began ordering in January. He didn’t end up with a single one of the big birds, which last year accounted for more than a third of what the Michigan company sold for the holiday.

After the worst-ever U.S. outbreak of avian influenza destroyed almost 8 million turkeys earlier this year, there are fewer of them, and those that remain are smaller than normal. That’s boosting wholesale costs for grocers to a record, and consumer prices are the highest ever for this time of year. Americans will eat about 49 million turkeys for Thanksgiving holiday meals on Nov. 26, or roughly one of every five that will be consumed all year.

“The larger-sized birds will be difficult to get this year,” Taormina said, adding that the biggest available at his upscale stores will be 20 pounds to 22 pounds, which is big enough to feed about 15 people. Turkey is “center-of-the-plate for this holiday, so typically families get together and they’re looking for the bigger-sized” birds, he said.

Some turkey farmers haven’t recovered from a six-month outbreak that ended in June, and many were forced to sell birds earlier than normal and at smaller sizes, said Russ Whitman, vice president at commodity researcher Urner Barry in Bayville, New Jersey. Production fell to a five-year low, and the September weight decline for turkeys was the biggest for that month in four decades, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show.

Wholesale, fresh turkey hens surged 18 percent from a year earlier to a record $1.5993 a pound as of Nov. 6, and frozen turkeys were up 5.6 percent at $1.309 a pound, after touching an all-time high of $1.385 a week earlier, USDA data show. The agency estimates birds at slaughter weighed 29.7 pounds in September, down 2.8 percent from a year earlier and the biggest decline for that month since 1973. (Read more from “Thanksgiving Turkeys Cost More Than Ever After Bird Flu Wipeout” HERE)

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