Problems with inflation, supply disruptions and bad weather have pushed up the price of just about everything — including Thanksgiving.
Overall, ingredients for traditional Thanksgiving meals will cost 13.5% more this year than last year, market research firm IRI predicted earlier this month, based on October data.
Some of these items cost even more per unit, especially the show’s star item: Turkish prices rose 24.4% year-over-year in the week ended Nov. 6.
Meanwhile, the price of fresh potatoes rose 19.9 percent, cranberry sauce rose 18.1 percent and salads and leafy greens rose 8.7 percent. Eggs and butter (including margarine or spreads) — staples of desserts and side dishes — soared 74.7% and 38.5%, respectively.
“We have some sharp questions in 2022 – but they build on issues we’ve been dealing with over the past few years,” said Rob Fox, head of knowledge exchange at CoBank.
That’s why everything on the Thanksgiving plate is more expensive this year.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza — a deadly infectious disease that has been decimating poultry flocks this year — has hit turkey supplies particularly hard.
“It’s been a very challenging year for turkey producers across the country,” said National Turkey Federation spokeswoman Beth Breeding.
“We’ve lost about 8 million turkeys to date,” she said, “a little more than 3 percent of the expected annual turkey production.”
She noted that the disruption doesn’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 bird flu.
Breeding hopes things will stabilize and said the industry is working with the Department of Agriculture to better understand the flu and how to prevent it. But for now, it’s unclear when the virus will end.
Breeding explained that the 2015 bird flu outbreak was brought under control in June. But “this year, we didn’t see the same pattern,” she said. “We did have a lull in cases in June, July and some of the hotter summer months, but we saw cases pick up again in August and into the fall.”
Courtney Buerger Schmidt, division manager for Wells Fargo’s Food and Agribusiness Industry Advisory Group, noted that bad weather has hampered potato supplies.
“It’s been a really bad year for crops across the U.S.,” Schmidt said. “Your potatoes are like that.”
For potatoes, “it’s raining at the wrong time, or not enough rain,” she said. “So you’re going to see another crop shortage this year.”
In the northwestern part of the country, a cool spring delayed the potato harvest, followed by extreme heat, the Wells Fargo report co-authored by Schmidt explained. “This environment hinders the growth of potato plants,” the report said. “The potatoes in the field are smaller and the yields are smaller.”
Fresh potatoes can be stored year-round. But last year’s harvest was also small due to the hot and dry weather in Idaho, explained Rabobank fruit and vegetable analyst Almuhanad Melhim. “We started the year with very low inventories,” he said. Tight supplies have led to higher prices.
The production of cranberries has also decreased this year, but the disadvantages are less pronounced.
Wisconsin’s harvest was “lower than expected,” said Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin Cranberry Growers Association, which produces most of the country’s cranberry crop.
What is the reason for the tight supply? “We’re scratching our heads,” Lochner said, working with experts to figure out why. Right now, his best bet is going from cold to hot to cool weather.
“This affects the size of the fruit,” he said. “That’s probably why we underperformed slightly.”
But this year is still better than last year, when bad weather meant a smaller cranberry harvest. “We’re still bouncing back from last year,” he said, adding that there should be no shortage of cranberries this year.
Fresh cranberries are actually cheaper this year than last year, down 9.9 percent, according to IRI.
But that’s not the case in premade cranberry sauce, where prices have gone up.
Lochner noted that processors set these prices, and they see higher input costs that have nothing to do with the berries — like “processing the fruit and bringing it to market.”
Romaine and leafy greens are affected by crop diseases.
In California, where most of the lettuce is grown in the country, “there’s been a high incidence of viral infection, and the crop impact in some fields has been quite significant,” Melchim said. “This has resulted in very low availability and quality of lettuce.”
The problem is especially acute now because of the normal seasonal transition of crops from California to Arizona, he explained.
“You’re on the cusp of starting a new season [in Arizona] “After that taper in California,” even under normal circumstances, that period would limit supply, he said.
The spread of the disease in California, combined with this shift, “is the perfect recipe for really historic highs,” he said.
No matter how you slice it, pies are going to be more expensive this year as key ingredients run into all sorts of problems.
Butter became more expensive as milk supplies dwindled.
“Young milk” appeared. [from] “From a global perspective,” it was less than expected, Cobank’s Fox said. “You have less milk and less global butter supply.”
As milk supplies dwindle, dairy producers have less leeway, intensifying competition among butter makers, cheese makers and liquid milk processors. According to a CoBank report, consumer interest in milk and cheese outpaced demand for butter, driving up prices.
Some pie recipes call for eggs or egg washes. Consumers won’t see any relief, either: Along with turkeys, laying hens have also been hit by bird flu, sending egg prices soaring.
Laying chickens “have been hit really hard,” Schmidt said. “I think at the peak, our egg production was down 9 percent.” Other shelf-stable essentials, such as flour, were also more expensive. Even frozen pie and pastry shells were up 23.6 percent, and whipped dairy was up 23 percent.
A silver lining: Sweet potatoes and yams rose just 2.6% in grocery store prices.
“Sweet potatoes are probably one of the varieties that you value more now,” Wells Fargo’s Schmidt said.