Thanksgiving dinner costs more this year due to inflation and a virus that impacts turkeys

Nov. 23, 2022, 5 a.m. ·

A typical Thanksgiving dinner has shot up in price over last year. Turkey has been affected not only be inflation, but by avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu. (Photo courtesy of the National Turkey Federation)

Surveys say the price of Thanksgiving dinner, including turkey, is up this year. Economists attribute the price increase largely to inflation. While experts say there’s no shortage of turkeys, 8 million birds have died or been culled this year because of a viral disease.

Your Thanksgiving dinner will be pricier this year.

One survey, by the American Farm Bureau Federation, found a Thanksgiving feast for 10 costs an average of 20% more than last year.

The Farm Bureau’s chief economist Roger Cryan says the increase can largely be attributed to inflation.

“It robs consumers and farmers of their buying power,” Cryan said during a call with media outlets on Wednesday. “And it’s leading to quite a bit of chaos in the macroeconomy.”

Supply chain issues and the war in Ukraine have also pushed up the prices of Thanksgiving staples, Cryan said. The survey found 30 ounces of pumpkin pie mix costs 64 cents more than last year, 14 ounces of cubed stuffing cost $1.59 more than last year. The main item on the menu, a 16-pound turkey, costs $28.96, nearly $5 more than last year.

The National Turkey Federation disputes the survey. In a tweet Wednesday after the Farm Bureau's survey was released, the turkey industry group pointed out that the data, which comes from shoppers who check grocery store prices, is from October.

“Turkey and good deals are available!” the National Turkey Federation wrote in its tweet.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says a large fresh turkey will cost 2 cents more per pound compared to last year. A large frozen turkey will cost 9 cents more per pound compared to last year.

According to the USDA, more than 8 million turkeys have died or been destroyed this year because of a highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak across the country.

The virus, commonly called bird flu, is highly contagious and can cause domestic poultry to have a lack of energy, difficulty breathing and even sudden death. Entire flocks need to be eradicated when the virus reaches a farm or backyard flock, to help stem the spread. The virus has hit flocks this fall, alongside wild birds’ migration south.

But experts say while that has had an impact on turkey production, the industry has been working to catch up with demand.

Beth Breeding, a spokesperson for the National Turkey Federation wrote in an email to Harvest Public Media that the NTF estimates approximately 40 million turkeys are consumed throughout the holiday season.

“I am not aware of challenges getting turkey in any particular part of the country,” Breeding wrote. “If you’re looking for a turkey product this Thanksgiving, you’re going to find one.”

The USDA posted a memo on Wednesday, echoing that turkey products are available, despite the loss of millions of turkeys to bird flu.

“USDA, states, and producers worked closely to implement a comprehensive, collaborative, and all-hands-on-deck response to this outbreak,” the memo said, “and ensure there is an adequate supply of turkeys for the holiday season, successfully ensuring that everyone who wants a bird will be able to get one.”

That turkey may be a bit smaller than what you’re used to, said Chad Hart, an Iowa State University agricultural economist. Hart said some turkeys were harvested at a smaller size a couple weeks earlier than normal to help fill Thanksgiving demand.

“We will have a selection of larger birds available, but they won’t be quite as prevalent,” he said. “And we’ll have a few that [farmers started raising], say, in September, trying to make up for some of those lost flocks that are going to be right there in the case with them.”

But by Christmastime size will be less of an issue, Hart said, because flocks that aren’t being harvested for Thanksgiving have a few more weeks to grow.

This story was produced in partnership with Harvest Public Media, a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest. It reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues. Follow Harvest on Twitter: @HarvestPM