Thanksgiving turkey will be more expensive than usual this year due to a nationwide bird flu outbreak that’s already shortened the country’s supply ahead of the holiday.
One of the country’s largest commercial turkey processors, Hormel Foods, anticipates that “lower industry-wide turkey supplies [will] keep prices higher” through the holiday, according to Hormel CFO Jacinth Smiley on an earnings call this month. Hormel’s own supply, also hit by avian flu, is considerably lower this year, Food Dive reports.
With pricier turkeys and far fewer of them than normal, the race to snag the best bird well in advance of the holiday may be even fiercer this fall. But high prices could very well lower turkey consumption altogether around the holiday season. Last year, when fresh turkey prices rose 10% above those of 2020, turkey sales dropped 6%, according to a Forbes report. Turkey shopping may happen earlier this year, too, and some shoppers may opt instead for cheaper chicken or turkey breast, Carman Allison, a vice president at NielsenIQ, tells Forbes.
Avian influenza doesn’t pose a health concern to humans, but it’s deadly to birds that contract it. In order to contain outbreaks, farmers must kill entire flocks of turkeys—and this year, they killed around 5.4 million turkeys between January and July due to exposure, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Since mid-July of this year, 10 outbreaks have impacted roughly 617,200 birds in 39 states. July is also when producers begin raising Thanksgiving turkeys.
While outbreaks aren’t unusual on their own, they’re normally halted by the onset of warmer weather. That’s not the case this year, with the flu persisting into the hottest months and even in a late-summer heat wave in California.
In fact, this outbreak could match or outpace the worst in recent history: In 2015, the bird flu afflicted over 50 million turkeys before control measures and warm weather saw it plateau. Since January of this year, 40.8 million birds have already been affected by the outbreak.