Turkey shortages impact organizations that serve holiday meals


INDIANAPOLIS – For Thanksgiving dinner, The Mozel Sanders Foundation it’s usually a science, but a continued shortage of turkey alters plans slightly.

“The turkey shortage hit us in the face. We weren’t ready or prepared for this,” said COO Stephanie Sanders.

Turkey being rare, Sanders said they were still planning to serve around 10,000 Hoosiers for their annual Thanksgiving dinner, but pulled chicken will be the main course instead.

However, Sanders said they have been through this before, but not for a while. The last time they faced a shortage of turkey, she said, was in the 90s. During that time, they served chicken instead.

“A lot of people didn’t even know the difference, they were like, ‘Oh, that’s good!’ Sanders said.

Experts said opting for a different bird is one of the side effects of the current turkey shortage.

“Over the past few years, farmers seem to have collectively decided that turkeys aren’t very profitable, and so they’re raising fewer birds,” said Professor Kyle Cattani, of the Kelley School of Business at the University of Indiana. “This year, this drop in capacity has been increased considerably. There was a bird flu which required the destruction of many turkeys, compounding the problems of an already low supply.

“On the supply side of the equation, we’re seeing far fewer birds available this year,” he said. “The demand side of the equation has also been complicated over the past two years with COVID.”

This time around, Cattani said more families are likely to plan to eat together in person and hold larger gatherings, driving up demand for turkeys.

Cattani said strong demand and limited supply will also likely lead to significantly higher prices for the consumer, an effect Trisha Johnson already saw earlier in September.

“There’s been a 22% increase per pound this year,” she said. “We ordered 754 pounds of turkey, that’s a big change we didn’t expect.”

Johnson is one of the organizers behind Free Plainfield Thanksgiving Dinnera community effort that has been providing restaurant, drive-thru and delivery meals during the holidays for 18 years.

“This year we’ve prepared to serve about 1,300 to 1,500 people,” Johnson said.

Johnson said organizers secured their turkeys in September, anticipating difficulties could arise.

“We were told early on that there might be a problem, so we secured our turkeys early on,” she said.

Despite the hardships, Johnson hopes neighbors will come by for a meal to help ease the higher costs affecting everyone’s lives.

“Save yourself what few dollars you can, spend it on your kids, spend it on your grandkids, and just come have a free meal with us,” she said.

In the meantime, if you’re planning your own dinner and are still on the hunt for a turkey, experts suggest keeping an eye out for local grocery stores.

“Some are pricing relatively low, maybe even at a loss, so customers come in to buy a turkey but leave the store with a whole bunch of other stuff,” Cattani said. “It’s hard to predict exactly where prices are going, but if you see a turkey at a good price, I recommend buying it.”


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