Thanksgiving Food Prices Increase as Supply Chain Costs Rise

Thanksgiving Food Prices Increase as Supply Chain Costs Rise

Thanksgiving 2021 could be the most expensive meal in the history of the holiday.

Caroline Hoffman is already stashing canned pumpkin in the kitchen of her Chicago apartment when she finds some for under a dollar. She recently spent almost $2 more for the vanilla she’ll need to bake pumpkin bread and other desserts for the various Friendsgiving celebrations she’s been invited to.

Matthew McClure paid 20 percent more this month than he did last year for the 25 pasture-raised turkeys he plans to roast at the Hive, the Bentonville, Ark., restaurant where he is the executive chef. And Norman Brown, director of sweet-potato sales for Wada Farms in Raleigh, N.C., is paying truckers nearly twice as much as usual to haul the crop to other parts of the country.

“I never seen anything like it, and I’ve been running sweet potatoes for 38 or 39 years,” Mr. Brown said. “I don’t know what the answer is, but in the end it’s all going to get passed on to the consumer.”

Nearly every component of the traditional American Thanksgiving dinner, from the disposable aluminum turkey roasting pan to the coffee and pie, will cost more this year, according to agricultural economists, farmers and grocery executives. Major food companies like Nestlé and Procter & Gamble have already warned consumers to brace for more price increases.

Turkey is more expensive largely because the price of corn, which most commercial turkeys feed on, more than doubled in some parts of the country from July 2020 to July 2021. Whole frozen birds between eight and 16 pounds already cost 25 cents a pound more than they did a year ago, according to the weekly Department of Agriculture turkey report released on Friday.

The price rises are hitting in a year when Covid vaccines and loosened health guidelines point to more and bigger holiday celebrations than in 2020. There will be fewer turkeys on the market, but demand is expected to be higher, particularly for smaller birds and for more carefully raised and processed turkeys.

Kroger executives are anticipating more of what marketers call the “premiumization” of Thanksgiving ingredients, with many cooks shopping for turkeys that are fresh, organic, free-range or processed in ways that elevate them beyond an inexpensive frozen bird.

“Customers aren’t necessarily going out to restaurants, so they are upping their game in terms of products,” said Stuart Aitken, the company’s chief merchant.

Still, plenty of households will be looking for bargain turkeys and trying to stretch their food budget.

“I can buy that this will be the most expensive Thanksgiving ever, but there’s an income-inequality story here that matters a lot,” said Trey Malone, an agricultural economist at Michigan State University. “The rich are going to be spending more on Thanksgiving than they have ever spent before, but not everyone is going to be able to do that.”

Packaged dinner rolls will be pricier because the cost of almost all of the ingredients that commercial bakers use has gone up. Canned cranberry sauce will cost more because domestic steel plants have yet to catch up after pandemic shutdowns, and China is limiting steel production to reduce carbon emissions. As a result, steel prices have remained more than 200 percent higher than they were before the pandemic.

That’s not reassuring to some home cooks, who are worried about not being able to find smaller turkeys, canned pumpkin or the particular kind of stuffing mix they like.

Ms. Hoffman, a Chicago resident who works in public relations and blogs about food, recently had a difficult time finding cream of tartar and mini marshmallows. “Even finding cans of pumpkin has been honestly difficult,” she said, “so as I see them, I grab a few.”

As food prices continue to climb, she has to budget more and search out bargains. That’s not always easy when the holidays demand specific ingredients.

“I dread buying vanilla,” she said.

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