(NerdWallet) – Need something to be thankful for? Well, in addition to the roof above your head and the device you’re reading this on, you can add the price of your Thanksgiving turkey to the list.
That’s according to the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), which found that the average price of an 8-to-16-pound turkey was $1.27 per pound in August 2023 — a 22% decline from August 2022. The U.S. Department of Agriculture likewise lists the average price per pound for frozen, whole hen turkeys as $1.27 in August 2023 — down just over 22% from $1.64 in August 2022.
The prices of some turkey products fell more dramatically, like boneless and skinless male turkey breasts, which were 61% cheaper in August 2023 than the same time last year, per the AFBF.
Why is this happening? Because, finally, a highly contagious avian flu outbreak came under control.
Poultry industry ‘holding its breath’
In early 2022, what would become the largest bird flu outbreak in U.S. history started infecting wild and commercial flocks. Since then, it’s killed more than 60 million birds, and those shrinking supplies drove sharp increases in poultry and egg prices.
But the situation has improved. In September 2023, a little over 500 birds contracted the avian flu. That’s a dramatic decline from the same period one year earlier, when 8.15 million birds contracted the flu, according to the AFBF.
“We’re holding our breath,” says Gregory P. Martin, an extension educator in poultry at Penn State University Extension, speaking about the broader poultry industry.
But while the situation is much better than last year, avian flu cases have started climbing again. There were 520 new avian influenza cases in September; in October, there were 1.37 million new cases. So far in November, 1.09 million new cases have been detected.
How the avian flu could affect turkey availability
Because of the poultry production supply chain, the timing of bird flu outbreaks affects the availability of certain kinds of turkeys, Martin says.
There should be an “ample supply” of frozen turkeys, Martin says, because producers can store frozen turkeys for up to a year before we see them on grocery shelves. But fresh turkeys will be harder to come by, Martin says, due to the recent surge in influenza cases. That outbreak coincided with the end of the poultry industry’s “seasonal processing,” Martin says. Any fresh turkeys that needed to be in grocery stores by Thanksgiving should’ve been processed four to six weeks beforehand.
“At this late date, most of the fresh stock has already been processed and is being held in refrigeration,” Martin says. “If you need a fresh bird, you should be ordering it now. Not later — now.”
Frozen turkeys are often cheaper than fresh turkeys. As of Nov. 3, the average cost of a frozen turkey is roughly $1.18 per pound in the northeastern U.S., compared to $1.69 per pound for fresh turkeys, according to the USDA’s most recent national turkey retail report. (The USDA lists the prices of both fresh and frozen turkeys only in the northeast.)
If you were hoping to snag a fresh turkey from a local farm, you may be out of luck this year, Martin says, since those farms can’t process and store turkeys as far back as larger producers can.
“If you’re ordering from a local farm, you probably should’ve done it last month,” Martin says.
Frozen turkey prices
Below, you’ll find the listed online prices for frozen turkeys at several grocery stores. Note: Each product’s price per pound was checked in several U.S. cities, but prices may still vary in your area.
- $1.49 per pound: Butterball premium all-natural young turkey.
- 99 cents per pound: Good & Gather premium basted young turkey.
- $2.59 per pound: Butterball whole turkey.
- $2.49 per pound: Signature Farms whole turkey.
- $4.49 per pound: Signature Select fully cooked hickory smoked whole young turkey.
- $69 cents per pound: Publix whole turkey Grade A.
- $2.99 per pound: Plainville whole turkey, raised without antibiotics.
- $1.28 per pound: Butterball premium whole turkey.
- 98 cents per pound: Shady Brook Farms whole young turkey.
Wait a second — what about inflation?
Consumer prices across all categories are up 3.2% year over year, as of October 2023, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s better than things were last year — in October 2022, consumer prices were up 7.7% year over year, per the BLS.
Analysts believe that in 2024, inflation will have dropped near the Federal Reserve’s 2% target. It’s important to remember that anything could happen between now and then — a lesson we all learned during the pandemic. But, if the economy reacts to the Fed’s manipulations the way federal regulators think it will, consumers will finally see a calming of inflation for groceries, housing and other goods.