Problems like inflation, short supply and inclement weather have pushed up the prices of everything, including Thanksgiving.
Overall, ingredients for a traditional Thanksgiving meal will cost shoppers 13.5% more this year than last year, market research firm IRI predicted earlier this month, using data from October.
Many of those items are even more expensive on an individual basis, especially the star of the show: Turkey prices were up 24.4% year-on-year in the week ending Nov. 6.
Meanwhile, fresh potatoes cost 19.9% more, cranberry sauce 18.1% more, and salads and leafy greens 8.7% more. Eggs and butter (including margarine or spreads) – key ingredients for desserts and sides – saw huge increases of 74.7% and 38.5%, respectively.
“We had some serious issues in 2022 – but they built on a foundation of problems we’ve been dealing with for the past few years,” said Rob Fox, Director of the Knowledge Exchange Division at CoBank.
Why every item on your Thanksgiving plate is more expensive this year.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza – a deadly, contagious disease that is devastating poultry flocks this year – has hit turkey supplies particularly hard.
“This has been a very challenging year for turkey producers across the country,” said Beth Breeding, spokeswoman for the National Turkey Federation.
“To date, we have lost approximately 8 million turkeys,” she said, “just over 3% of the expected annual turkey production.”
The disruption won’t mean a turkey shortage because producers start planning for Thanksgiving a year before the holiday, giving them time to plan — even for a crisis like avian flu.
Breeding is hopeful that things will stabilize, and said the industry is working with the Department of Agriculture to better understand the flu and find ways to prevent it. But it is not yet clear when the virus will run its course.
In 2015, the avian flu outbreak was under control by June, Breeding explained. But “this year, we didn’t see the same pattern,” she said. “We had a decrease in cases in June, July and some of the hot summer months, but we saw cases fall again in August.”
Bad weather has held up potato supplies, said Courtney Buerger Schmidt, a sector manager with Wells Fargo’s food and agribusiness industry advisory group.
“It’s really been a tough season for crops across America,” Schmidt said. “That’s what happened to your potatoes.”
For spuds, “the rain came at the wrong time, or you didn’t get enough rain,” she said. “So you’re looking at another small crop this year.”
The Wells Fargo report, co-authored by Schmidt, notes that in the northwest region of the country, a cool spring — which delayed the potato harvest — was followed by an extreme heat. “Such an environment inhibits potato plant growth,” the report said. “Potatoes in the ground lose shape and yield.”
It is possible to store fresh potatoes all year round. But last year’s crop was also smaller because of hot and dry weather in Idaho, explained Almuhanad Melhim, a fruit and vegetable analyst at Rabobank. “We started this year with really low inventory,” he said. The prices have increased due to the shortage in supply.
Cranberry crops are also smaller this year, but the headwinds are less pronounced.
The harvest in Wisconsin was “less than expected,” said Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, which produces a large slice of the nation’s cranberry crop.
The reason for the shortfall in supply? “We’re scratching our heads,” Lochner said, and working with experts to narrow down the cause. For now, his best bet is to switch from cold to warm to cold climates.
“This affected the size of the fruit,” he said. “Maybe that’s why we came in a little below our expectation.”
But this year is still better than last year, when bad weather meant the cranberry harvest was even smaller. “We still turned over from last year,” he said, adding that there should be no shortage of cranberries this year.
IRI data shows that fresh cranberries are actually cheaper this year than last year, down 9.9%.
But that’s not the case in prepared cranberry sauce, which is where prices skyrocket.
Lochner pointed out that processors set those prices, and they’re seeing higher input costs related to berries — such as “processing the fruit and getting it to market.”
Crop disease has damaged romaine and green leaf lettuce.
Melheim said that in California, where most of the country’s lettuce is grown, “there has been a high incidence of virus infection, which has significantly affected the crop in some areas.” “That really reduced the supply and the quality of the lettuce.”
The problem is especially acute right now because of the common seasonal transition of crops from California to Arizona, he explained.
“You are on the cusp of starting a new season [in Arizona] California is closing one after the other,” he said. Even under normal circumstances, there are supply deadlines in between.
The disease spreading in California, plus that infection, “really was the perfect recipe for historically high prices,” he said.
Any way you slice it, pie is going to be more valuable this year as a variety of problems affect key ingredients.
Butter has become costlier due to dwindling supply of milk.
milk is low [from] A global outlook” than expected, CoBank’s Fox said. “You’ve got less milk, you’ve got less global butter supply.”
As milk supplies dwindle, dairy producers have less to go around, increasing competition among butter makers, cheese makers and liquid milk processors. According to a CoBank report, consumer interest in milk and cheese has exceeded demand for butter, driving up prices.
Some pie recipes call for eggs or an egg wash. Consumers won’t find any respite there either: turkeys as well as laying hens have been affected by avian flu, causing egg prices to skyrocket.
Egg-laying hens were “hit pretty hard,” Schmidt said. “I think at its peak, we were down to 9% of our egg-laying flock.” Other shelf-stable essentials, such as flour, are also expensive. Even frozen pie and pastry shells have become 23.6% more expensive, and prices for whipped dairy toppings have increased by 23%.
One silver lining: Sweet potatoes and yams are up just 2.6% at the grocery store.
Wells Fargo’s Schmidt said, “Sweet potatoes are probably one of the better values you can find right now.” “You certainly noticed that the crop performed a little better …