Inflation and the rising cost of a Thanksgiving meal

Published November 21, 2022

Problems like inflation, supply problems, and bad weather have driven up the prices of just about everything, including Thanksgiving.

Overall, ingredients for a traditional Thanksgiving meal will cost shoppers 13.5 percent more this year than last year, market research firm IRI predicted earlier this month, using data from October.

Many of those items are still more expensive on an individual basis, notably the star of the show: Turkey’s prices rose 24.4% year-on-year in the week ending Nov. 6.

Meanwhile, fresh potatoes cost 19.9 percent more, cranberry sauce 18.1 percent more, and salads and leafy greens 8.7 percent more during that time. Eggs and butter (including margarine or spreads) – key ingredients for desserts and side dishes – rose by 74.7% and 38.5%, respectively.

“We had some acute issues in 2022, but these are building on a foundation of issues we’ve been dealing with over the past couple of years,” said Rob Fox, director of CoBank’s knowledge exchange division.

That’s why every item on your Thanksgiving plate is more expensive this year.

Turkey

Highly pathogenic avian influenza – a deadly and contagious disease that destroyed poultry farms this year – has hit turkey supplies particularly hard.

“It’s been a very busy year for turkey producers across the country,” said Beth Breeding, a spokeswoman for the National Turkey Federation.

“To date, we’ve lost about 8 million turkeys,” he said, “just over 3 percent of projected annual turkey production.”

The disruption won’t mean a shortage of turkeys because producers start planning Thanksgiving a year before the holidays, giving them time to plan, even for a crisis like bird flu, he noted.

Farming raises hopes for things to 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 run its course.

In 2015, the bird flu outbreak was under control in June, Breeding explained. But “we haven’t seen the same pattern this year,” she said. “We’ve had a lull in cases, June, July and some of the warmer summer months, but we’ve seen cases pick up again in August going into the fall.”

Potatoes

Severe weather choked off potato supplies, noted Courtney Buerger Schmidt, industry manager within Wells Fargo’s Food and Agribusiness Advisory Group.

“It’s been a really tough year for US crops,” Schmidt said. “Here’s what happened to your potatoes.”

For the spuds, “the rains either came at the wrong time, or you didn’t rain enough,” he said. “So you’re seeing another short crop this year.”

A Wells Fargo report co-authored by Schmidt explained that in the northwestern region of the country, a cool spring — which delayed the potato harvest — was followed by extreme heat. “This type of environment stunts potato plant growth,” the report said. “Potatoes in the ground lose size and yield.”

You can keep fresh potatoes all year round. But last year’s harvest was also poor due to Idaho’s hot and dry weather, explained Almuhanad Melhim, a fruit and vegetable analyst at Rabobank. “We started this year with really low inventory,” he said. Squeezing supply has led to higher prices.

Cranberry sauce

Cranberry harvests are also smaller this year, but the headwinds are less noticeable.

The harvest in Wisconsin was “less than expected,” said Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, which produces a large chunk of the country’s blueberry crop.

The reason for the offer squeeze? “We’re scratching our heads,” Lochner said, and are working with experts to nail the lawsuit. For now, his best bet is going from cold to hot to cold.

“That affected the size of the fruit,” he said. “That’s probably why we came in a little short of what we expected.”

But this year is even better than last year, when bad weather meant that blueberry harvests were even smaller. “We’re still on the upswing from last year,” she said, adding that cranberries shouldn’t be missing this year.

IRI data shows that fresh blueberries are actually cheaper this year than last year, down 9.9%.

But that’s not the case with prepared cranberry sauces, where prices are soaring.

Lochner pointed out that processors set those prices and that they are seeing higher input costs unrelated to berries, such as “processing the fruit and getting it to market.”

Salad

Romaine lettuce and leafy green lettuce have been affected by crop diseases.

In California, where much of the country’s lettuce is grown, there has been “a high incidence of virus infection that affected the crop quite significantly in some fields,” Melhim said. “That led to really low supply and low lettuce quality.”

The problem is especially acute right now due to the normal seasonal transition from California to Arizona crops, he explained.

“You are about to start a new season [in Arizona] after that in California is running out,” he said. Even under normal circumstances, that in-between time limits supply.

The spread of the disease in California, plus that transition, “was the perfect recipe for historically high prices,” he said.

Cake

Any way you slice it, the pie will be more expensive this year as a variety of issues affect key ingredients.

Butter has become more expensive due to a shrinking milk supply.

There has been “less milk [from] a global point of view” than expected, said Cobank’s Fox. “You have less milk, you have less global butter supply.”

As milk supplies dwindle, there is less for dairy producers to do, increasing competition between butter producers, cheese makers and fluid milk processors. Consumer interest in milk and cheese has outpaced demand for butter, driving up prices, according to a CoBank report.

Some cake recipes call for eggs or an egg wash. Consumers won’t see any relief either: Along with turkeys, laying hens have also been affected by bird flu, sending egg prices skyrocketing.

Egg-laying chickens “have been hit very hard,” Schmidt said. “I think at the peak, we were down 9% of our spawning flock.” Other stable essentials, such as flour, are also more expensive. Frozen pies and shortcrust pastry shells also became 23.6% more expensive, and the prices of whipped dairy toppings increased 23%.

On the bright side: Sweet potatoes and yams are up just 2.6% in grocery stores.

“Sweet potatoes are probably one of your best values ​​right now,” said Wells Fargo’s Schmidt.

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