Thanksgiving Shoppers Across US Paying More This Year
November 25, 2021
This holiday season is shaping up to be a more expensive one as
pandemic-induced logistical challenges affect the country’s food supply.
Thanksgiving, a holiday for which farmers and producers typically spend
months planning, is projected to hit Americans’ pocketbooks harder than
normal this year.
Pricey corn has driven up costs for the turkeys that feed on it.
Aluminum producers, whose products are used for the foil wrapping
post-Thanksgiving leftovers, are struggling to ship orders. In this
interconnected world, labor shortages, higher shipping costs and supply
chain snafus are driving up some Thanksgiving prices, according to Wendy
White, a supply chain expert and project manager at Georgia Tech’s
Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
“We have a large global market, and shipping something from another part
of the world has become so easy for us in this day and age,” White said
in an interview with Georgia Tech’s News Center. “Now, we’re seeing
bottlenecks in the shipping and logistics segments of our food supply,
and it becomes apparent how we sometimes are reliant on those imports.”
In its annual survey published November 18, the American Farm Bureau
Federation said the cost of this year’s Thanksgiving staples have risen
14% from last year. Ten people enjoying turkey, potatoes, cranberries,
vegetables and rolls — and an after-dinner pumpkin pie topped with
whipped cream — will pay $53.31, or about $6 per person, this
Thanksgiving, according to averaged results from the organization’s
survey of grocery chains across the country.
The main course — a 7-kilogram frozen turkey — is $4.60 more expensive
than last year, but the Farm Bureau’s predictions may ease as November
25 approaches. The organization’s price checkers began scouting out
turkeys in late October, before grocers started offering reduced prices
on Thanksgiving staples, and they didn’t factor in discounts from
coupons, according to the Farm Bureau.
“Typically, turkeys are a loss-leader this time of year and the average
wholesale price this time of year will be higher than the average retail
price,” according to U.S. Agriculture Department Spokeswoman Paige
Blanchard. “One would argue that the sale price for turkey is the most
representative price,” she wrote via email.
Nonetheless, Farm Bureau senior economist Veronica Nigh notes
pandemic-induced inflation, supply chain disruptions and changes in
consumer behavior will likely boost Turkey Day prices.
“As things get back to normal, and supply chains return to normal
behavior, we would expect that next year and into the next months, the
cost of food will certainly start looking like the historical normal
rather than this increase that we’ve seen right now,” she said.
As always, families on the margins are especially feeling the pinch.
Organizations like Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin are
seeing higher-than-normal demand for food aid as grocery costs increase.
The Madison-based nonprofit supplies food pantries, meal sites and
shelters in 16 counties with food sourced from donations and wholesale
purchases. Kris Tazelaar, the organization’s communications director,
said higher food prices have driven more locals to seek out Second
Harvest Foodbank’s partner agencies.
“They already have very limited resources,” he said. “For the cost of
food to go up like it has, it just means that they can buy less.”
Crossroads Community Service, a food pantry based in New York City, is
paying more for carrots this year — and pork, and chicken, and liquid
eggs and paper products. Prices are erratic but program manager David
Sanders said the pantry has consistently seen 20% more customers over
the past three months.
Such price increases hurt wider shares of the population and affect aid
networks that rely on donations. A steady flow of donations normally
undergirds Second Harvest Foodbank’s food stocks, but since the pandemic
began, Tazelaar estimates the nonprofit has lost 15% of its donation
stream. It has turned to farms, retailers and food processors to make up
As demand increases ahead of Thanksgiving — Tazelaar says food pantries
have ramped up their orders over the past three weeks — supply chain
issues and competition, coupled with higher food costs, are making this
time of year more difficult. He notes that the people Second Harvest
Foodbank helps are the ones most hurt by surging prices.
“It’s eye-opening to see a line of 50 cars, or 100 cars, and to see them
pulling into the parking lot, and as they’re pulling up, to see tears in
their eyes because they’re so grateful that they’re getting a little bit
of help,” Tazelaar said.
Another New York City food pantry, The Bowery Mission, is ready to serve
more than 1,000 people on Thanksgiving. As the head of one of the city’s
oldest aid services, James Winans said his soup kitchen has had to bend
in the winds of a challenging pandemic, adapting to supply issues and
higher demand from down-and-out New Yorkers.
“Rising food prices and, in some ways, a sluggish job recovery in New
York have combined to place a high burden on low-income New Yorkers,” he
said. “We can certainly anticipate that we’ll be seeing some new faces
this year on Thanksgiving.”
other food pantries, The Bowery Mission relies almost entirely on
donations. Winans said that insulates his balance sheets from rising
food prices, and though some suppliers have dialed back their donations,
other sources maintain a steady flow of food into his kitchen.
A Whole Foods Market down the street keeps The Bowery Mission stocked
with produce; City Harvest, another New York City-based organization,
“rescues” food not yet ready to be thrown away from local restaurants.
In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Mennonite and Amish farmers provide
The Bowery Mission with most of its eggs and sugar.
“We have a very diversified stream of food donations that are coming
into the mission,” Winans said, “and I think that helps with one aspect
of the supply chain disruptions that there’s these other sources of food
that are available to us.”
With 200 turkeys, 300 pies, 1,000 pounds of vegetables and 3,000 pounds
of potatoes on tap this week, Winans said The Bowery Mission is buckled
up for a busy Thanksgiving.
“Sometimes it’s that one meal or that one article of clothing or that
one doctor’s appointment, whatever it is that we’re offering free of
charge, no questions asked — it’s often the first step toward a complete
life change,” he said. “We want to be that place for people who have
nowhere else, and no one else, in the world to care for them.”