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A turkey could gobble up more of your Thanksgiving budget this year

Hold For Biz—Frozen turkeys sit in a refrigerated case Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, inside a grocery store in southeast Denver.
David Zalubowski
Hold For Biz—Frozen turkeys sit in a refrigerated case Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, inside a grocery store in southeast Denver.

Rising food prices mean that many groceries cost more — and that might include your Thanksgiving turkey. Experts say the high prices are partly the result of high feed, labor and transportation costs, but most producers expect to have enough turkeys to meet demand.

Turkeys distributed by industrial processors to grocery stores typically rack up transportation and refrigeration costs before being delivered to the store, said Leah Lizarondo, the CEO and co-founder of 412 Food Rescue and an entrepreneur in residence at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College.

One processor might grow the turkey, then transport it to other facilities for processing and packaging.

“After a turkey is processed and packaged, it is then again transported, probably to another distribution center, and so you have more transport and refrigeration costs associated with that,” she said. “After the distribution center, it may then go to a couple more steps before it gets to the supermarket.”

The extra steps can increase the final cost and take a toll on the environment, but increased labor costs and other changes in the supply chain have also contributed to rising prices.

Processors typically begin to build up their supplies of frozen turkeys throughout the year before the holiday season. But according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in August, frozen turkey inventoriesfell 24% below the country’s three-year average.

In October, the U.S. Labor Department reported that prices for meat and poultry rose 1.7%.

The American Farm Bureau estimates a 16-pound turkey will cost$23.99 this year. That breaks down to about $1.50 per pound, a 24% increase from last year.

When turkeys come from local farms, the money and resources spent on transportation and refrigeration go down, which results in a lower environmental impact, said Lizarondo.

“[M]ore of the dollars, when you’re supporting a local business, stays within the community,” Lizarondo said. “So you’re supporting the community itself too.”

Some say buying a turkey from a local producer is a way to get a more flavorful bird and support local farmers.

“The average turkey travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate, and so our turkeys travel about 60 miles from the farm in western [Pennsylvania] that we get them from,” said Simon Huntley, the founder and CEO of Harvie, a grocery delivery company that offers goods from local farmers.

Despite rising prices, many local sellers still lose money on turkeys. But Huntley said farmers can also make more money when people buy their turkeys from small businesses. While grocery stores give farmers about 14 cents a bird, other distributors can pay around 55 cents.

People bought smaller turkeys last year because many skipped large holiday get-togethers, said Huntley. That means distributors needed more birds, and they had to plan ahead this year.

“People are probably having fairly small Thanksgivings this year as well. We’re seeing, like, the small turkeys being sold in general. They’re much more popular than in years past,” he said.

Huntley’s company expects to deliver more than 500 turkeys this year—nearly 10 times the amount they delivered last year.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at