From the turkey to the green beans to the ready-made pie, it’s all but certain: Your Thanksgiving feast is going to cost more this year. A lot more.
Despite signs that food costs are finally plateauing after months of high inflation, just about every Thanksgiving staple has seen double-digit percentage price increases since 2021. The reasons are many: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a major exporter of corn and wheat, has driven up the cost to feed livestock and poultry; surges in the price of diesel fuel have made it more expensive to harvest crops like potatoes and green beans; and rises in labor costs have jacked up costs along every step of the supply chain.
The result is a far steeper price for a holiday banquet than in years prior. A report from the American Farm Bureau Federation this month estimated that a Thanksgiving meal for 10 people will shake out to about $6.40 per person, a 20 percent hike from 2021.
“Last year, it was an availability challenge. This year, it’s a price challenge,” said Krishnakumar Davey, president of client engagement at IRI, a market research company.
In 2021, fears of a turkey shortage sent customers flocking to local farms and grocery stores for the fresh and frozen gobblers. This year — despite outbreaks of avian flu that wiped out more than 50 million birds and sounded the alarm on Thanksgiving turkey availability — the number of whole hens that were in cold storage in August was actually up 12 percent over the same time in 2021, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
“We expect that everyone who wants a turkey will be able to get one,” said Jay Jandrain, president and CEO of poultry producer Butterball. He noted that less than half a percent of the company’s turkeys were affected by avian flu.
But the price of the bird is a different story. Last November, you could score a frozen Butterball turkey at Stop & Shop for a sale price of $1.29 a pound. This year, that figure climbed to $1.49. Local farms have raised their prices, too: At Bob’s Turkey Farm in Lancaster, the retail price for farm-raised turkeys is $4.99 a pound, up from $4.29 a pound last November, said co-owner Susan Miner.
“The feed is killing us,” said Miner, estimating that the prices for the nutrients have gone up 25 to 30 percent. “We have to feed them for a year before they lay an egg. So, the feed’s up, so we have to go up.”
Indeed, the cost of feed is the “single biggest driver” of turkey cost increases, said Butterball’s Jandrain, and it’s due in large part to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At Natick Community Organic Farm, the cost of a pasture-raised turkey went up to $9 a pound this year from $7 last year, chiefly because of skyrocketing grain prices, said livestock manager Haley Goulet.
Though New England farms dodged the worst of the avian flu crisis, they were not immune to it. Diemand Farm in Wendell placed its baby turkey orders in January, but when it came time to get a batch of birds in July, their hatchery in Canada was having issues with disease. They turned to another hatchery to make up for the lost turkeys, but they couldn’t get them until Sept. 1, meaning the birds lost out on 4 to 5 weeks of growth.
“So that means we’re going to have about 2,000 turkeys that are much smaller than we had wanted and than what customers want,” said manager Tessa White-Diemand. But prices are still up; the cost per pound is now $4.99, compared to $4.29 last year.
And turkeys are far from the only Thanksgiving delicacy where shoppers will feel the pinch. Heat waves and droughts in Idaho last year — combined with a cold, rainy spring this year that delayed harvest — stymied the state’s potato crop. Swaz Potato Farms in Hatfield had to irrigate a bit this year, but had a solid crop overall, said sales and marketing head Diane Szawlowski.
And yet, prices are — you guessed it — still up: Between increases in fertilizer prices, diesel fuel, packaging, and labor costs, the cost to raise the crop has gone up more than 40 percent, said Szawlowski. This year, the farm began charging about $20 wholesale for 10 five-pound bags of russet and white potatoes, up from $15 last year.
“Historically, potatoes have been very cheap,” she said. “It might be shocking to some people this year.”
There is one product that’s generally less expensive than last year: the beloved cranberry, which had a strong crop in Massachusetts this fall. Twelve ounces of cranberries costs 41 cents less than last year, according to the Farm Bureau. (Cranberry sauce, however, is up, about 18 percent from last year, per IRI.) At Cape Cod Select, the retail line for the Edgewood Bogs cranberry grower in Carver, the price of fresh cranberries stayed the same as last year — $9.99 for four pounds — according to marketing and special projects manager Amelia Houde.
While there are myriad supply-chain reasons for a higher bill this Thanksgiving, corporate profits are a key factor as well, said William A. Masters, an agricultural economist at Tufts University.
“A lot of it is companies just trying to understand how high a price will consumers take and keep paying,” said Masters, adding that this is a practice that could be put to the test on a holiday like Thanksgiving. “When consumers have traditions, which is kind of another word for habit, companies can exploit that and charge even more.”
So far, it seems consumers are willing to pay. Thirty-eight percent of consumers expect to spend more for holiday groceries this year, but plan on purchasing the same amount, according to IRI data.
Davey of IRI said there’s little evidence of early buying like there was last year; the sale volume for popular Thanksgiving foods for the week ending Nov. 6 was significantly lower than the same week in 2021, signaling that customers weren’t as worried about stocking up ahead of time.
For those dealing with Turkey Day sticker shock, don’t fret: Many local grocery stores — which depend on Thanksgiving as a major source of sales — are offering cost-saving deals on Thanksgiving dinners. A turkey dinner that serves six to eight people is running for $70 at Star Market, and both Aldi and Walmart are offering “pre-inflation” deals on certain Thanksgiving groceries.
And as the holiday draws nearer, “those prices are coming down, as more specials kick in for things like turkey and cranberries and stuffing,” said Roger Cryan, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation. “Thanksgiving is as good a time as any to look for a bargain.”
If all else fails, perhaps heed a piece of advice from Davey: “Make sure you make it a potluck, so everybody shares the cost,” he said.