Let’s Talk Turkey, About Inflation

So I’m trying to figure out if this is just a California Thing, or a Chinese Wuhan Covid side effect, or has the $Trillions of Fiat Money Printing showed up in the price of Turkey.

I’m an inveterate price watcher. Learned to do it from my frugal parents back in the late 50s, early 60s. Dad a child of the American Great Depression and W.W.II, Mum a child of ‘whatever’ was the equal depression in the UK (England), and W.W.II Rationing. (Story of one lump of coal in winter, waiting for Dad to come back from Merchant Marine duty at sea, so it could be burned and warmth for just a little while in the home…) So they taught me well.

OK, I use the “Chicken Metric” for determining “Is Turkey Cheap?”. The “feed conversion ratio” of chicken and turkey are about the same. Chicken can be a little better as they are often harvested younger in a higher growth phase, but not by a lot. So, if Chicken is going for $1 / pound, Turkey ought to be “close”. Sometimes a little less for lesser kinds. Sometimes more for “Delux”.

Chicken was 79 ¢/pound prior to Chinese Wuhan Covid. It rose, briefly, to about $1.80, mostly hanging around $1.30 / pound, during the height of the Covid-Panic. It is now back down to 79 ¢ to 89 ¢ / pound.

Shopping for Turkey for Thanksgiving, I got a nice 12 pound Foster Farm at COSTCO for something like 99 ¢ / pound. They had a long bin of them. Diestel was also available for more (it’s an organic fru-fru brand that’s GREAT, btw) but I don’t remember the price.

At the local Bargain Market Discount Grocery (or whatever… 4 names really is too many) they had a “No-Name” brand with 12% or 15% of “some crap we brewed up from the feet and feathers and beaks and crap and call ‘turkey broth'”, or something they called “broth”, injected into it. 79 ¢ / pound. And no, I’d not even buy that to feed the dogs. IF the turkey says “injected with”… {anything}, I’m a HARD PASS. Not just for the hidden 12% “uplift” in cost by diluting the actual pounds of Turkey, but also because I don’t like the taste of it, I do my own under the skin herbs & butter, and don’t know what crap they put in the ‘broth’)

Walmart had a slightly better injected bird at something like 89 ¢ / pound. I didn’t buy it either. I did, once, and it wasn’t bad, but tasted strange (even though family thought it was OK).

So now it’s Christmas. Time for another Turkey. Off to Cosco. No more do they stock the Foster Farms. They had a Diestel “brined / seasoned” turkey at $3.xx / pound. I don’t want some other person’s idea of the spices, I want MY idea (and memories…) So “pass”.

Off to other stores. The Bargain Market Grocery Outlet was sold out of the crummy turkeys. Smart & Final had $1.69 / pound for Butterball? Something like that. An upscale brand with “stuff” injected that I also don’t buy. But they were sold out too. Safeway had Foster Farms, at $2.80? or so per pound. House Brand at $2 / pound. (Safeway I rarely shop at ’cause everything seems to have 6 prices depending on card / no card / quantity / Who-Knows-What, but this was just one. That I saw.)

I ended up at Lucky’s for a 12 lb. Foster Farms at $2 / pound. Yes, I gave up and paid up.

So any clue? Are y’all suffering similar “Turkey Inflation”? Is your Turkey similar in price to your Chicken? Is it just a California thing, and you scored a Foster Farms or Butterball at $1 / pound or less? Is it a supply thing and Turkey is nearly sold out nation wide?

I hope this is just price gouging for Christmas and not a mark of Inflation starting.

In the mean time, I’ve got my turkey and I’ve bought some of that cheap chicken for the dogs. No way they’re getting any turkey at that price. ;-)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in Economics - Trading - and Money, Food. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Let’s Talk Turkey, About Inflation

  1. cdquarles says:

    You can hunt turkey here. That said, I’ve not bought anything turkey in years. Chicken, yes. I’d have to go see and compare Wal-mart to Sav-a-lot to Piggly-Wiggly and get an idea of the differences. It isn’t usually that much, though.

    Oh, yeah, chicken farming and the processing plants are a big thing here. Turkey not so much, so that may affect things a bit.

  2. V.P. Elect Smith says:

  3. billinoz says:

    Looks like all the turkeys there in US got ate at Thanksgiving E M.
    Here turkeys are not a big hing for Xmas. It used to be roast leg of lamb with all the trimmings. But nowadays we’ve been multi-culturalised…

    PS In WW2 Liverpool was a major port and center for making UK weapons & explosives. And thus a major target of the blitzing Luftwaffe bombing raids. I suggest your mum went through that. My own mum did though it was not something she ever wanted to talk about. It lead her to prefer food from tins which could be heated up quickly…

  4. President Elect H.R. says:

    I didn’t and won’t be doing a turkey this year so I haven’t even looked in the bins. No clue and no help on pricing, E.M.

    There’s a high end restaurant that is preparing heat ‘n eat Christmas dinners. There’s nothing we can buy the kids that we can afford or that they don’t already have. We’ll be busy packing up the trailer and busy with other trip preparations, so they asked us if we wanted to order Christmas dinner from this restaurant.

    Sure! Finally, something we can buy for the kids that they want. Dinner for 5 will set us back about $250 (did I mention this was a high end restaurant?) No problemo. We haven’t bought anything for the kids for the past 3 – 4 years so it was nice to have something we could get that they wanted and, though cooking is easy for me, it still would save me quite a bit of time when I am short on time.

    It’s prime rib roast, green beans almandine, herb roasted Yukon gold potatoes, and peach-blueberry cobbler with some snooty vanilla ice cream. Oh, and a loaf of ciabatta with garlic herb butter. They want me to pick up some shrimp cocktail from Costco for the appetizer.

    Heat ‘n eat.

    I can do all that standing on my head and with one hand tied behind my back. But the kids wanted a ready-made dinner so that I would not “have to” cook, and we were happy to get a chance to indulge them.

  5. Ed Forbes says:

    I bought Turkey for Thanksgiving at $0.70lb, with the cheapest listed at $0.50lb, but I like turkey more as soup leftovers than as the main course. I shop at Winco mostly and for a VERY short list of specific items at COSTCO. I buy almost no general food types at COSTCO.

    As my Christmas dinner shopping is for rib roast, did not specifically look at Turkey. Looking at this weeks adds for Smart & Final list First Street and Jennie brand Turkey at $0.77lb

    Quite a few food items have significantly increased in price this year, so food inflation is definitely a “thing”

    Cost of living is generally cheaper here in the Central Valley as opposed to the Bay Area for you, so comparing prices will be off a bit.

  6. President Elect H.R. says:

    Ha! @Ed Forbes re Costco: We do the same thing. We have maybe a dozen things we buy at Costco. We don’t go in and “shop” there.

    Eyeglasses there are really good and really, really inexpensive. Our membership is paid up for two to three years just from the savings on eyeglasses.

    I get my hearing aids and my hearing aid batteries there.

    There are about 8 – 10 food items I buy there. It used to be the best place to get K-cups for our Keurig, but they quit carrying the ones that we liked and I’ve found other sources for our favorites that are the same or less than Costco.

    But…! I always get a hotdog whenever I make a stop there. Best $1.50 hotdog evah!

  7. philjourdan says:

    With just 2 of us, we buy a whole turkey about once every 5 years. So no clue here either.

  8. jim2 says:

    Americans on the hunt for smaller turkeys for Thanksgiving this year are in for a challenge.

    The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports (pdf) that national demand for smaller frozen hens, which weigh 8 lbs to 16 lbs (4 kg to 7 kg), is higher than male turkeys, which weigh 16 lbs to 24 lbs.

    https://qz.com/1936927/americans-are-causing-a-small-turkey-shortage-for-thanksgiving/

  9. President Elect H.R. says:

    Whoa! @jim2 – That explains a lot. The Mrs. always wants lots of turkey leftovers, so I have always bought the largest turkey I can find, and a few years ago it was hard to break the 20 lb. mark. 19+ lbs. was bigun’. Everyone wanted big turkeys.

    As I wrote above, no turkey this year, but the last couple of years I did turkey on Thanksgiving and Christmas and was easily in the 22 – 23 lb. range. And as E.M. noted, really cheap.

    Good ol’ supply and demand. People don’t want Turkey-Forever-Leftovers anymore, so the smaller birds are at a premium… when you can find them.

    Also, these WuHu Flu times are weird and some people have been working their butts off while others have lost their jobs and run out of benefits. I would think that for the latter, big, cheap turkeys would be a good way to stretch their food dollar. But according to E.M., turkey just isn’t very cheap this year. I don’t know what they can do.

  10. E.M.Smith says:

    That turkey is still cheap in the Central Valley, 100 miles away, is a big tell. Probably a silicon valley shortage then.

    Did see a delux Diestel 6 lb. Turkey “petite” at the expensive Italian grocers. $3.xx / lb I think.

    I’ll have to check a local farm town…

    FWIW, we swap between Turkey and Ham for Christmas. Ham was $1.29 / lb. Strange to see ham less than turkey.

  11. President Elect H.R. says:

    Hmmm… local price spike. I’ve not been aware of those but I have no reason to believe they don’t happen.

    Any guesses why turkey prices have flown the coop in your area, E.M, or is it a mystery to you, too?

    Next time I’m oot and aboot, I’ll have to stick my nose into the turkey bin and see what they are going for.

  12. President Elect H.R. says:

    Ha! Must be a Silicon Valley thing. “My turkey is bigger than your turkey.”

    The guy with the 64 pound turkey, wins!
    😜

  13. V.P. Elect Smith says:

    @Prez. Elect H.R.:

    My guess is some kind of intersection of reduced supply and increased demand.

    L.A. had some kind of house arrest / lockdown thing after Thanksgiving up to now (we got 99 ¢ / lb Foster Farms at COSTCO for Thanksgiving), and a LOT of shipping in winter comes via I-10 (snow free, mostly) and that must cross L.A. to get here. Central Valley California has some local Turkey Farmers, but not the mega-farms like in “flyover country”. So my guess would be shipping issues via L.A. reduced the cheap eastern birds, leaving only higher priced and scarcer local. (Foster Farms and Diestel, IIRC, are two major local brands, both in stores, mostly fresh. Missing? The “other brand” hard as rock frozen 20 lb size birds…)

    So say you are a trucker. You almost ONLY cross L.A. between 10 PM and 6 AM as otherwise it is gridlock. ( Last time I crossed it was 9 PM and it was still a packed freeway on the 210 over the upper edge… moving, mostly, but scary tight). But now there is a curfew. Can’t get a hotel, meal, or gas-up, and don’t really know if being on the freeway is a crime or not… Plus, by law, you must stop and rest (where?) on a fixed schedule AND California limits trucks to 55 MPH (shades of Nixon…)

    It is winter, so taking an 18 wheeler over I-80 or I-40 (Barstow / Flagstaff) has you in snow covered mountains. Aside from the “Yuck!” of the experience, you can get stuck in snow with a truck of turkeys… or just slide off the mountain.

    Probably a lot easier to just blow off the Bay Area and sell them at the first distributor in the Eastern Edge of L.A. 4 million people here, 25? million in L.A. Basin. Easy to just sell them there…

    Leaving us with the local Foster Farms & Diestel and explaining why the local COSTCO “isn’t stocking the Foster Farms” as they have held a 99 ¢ price for years and likely just refused to pay the uplift. With what limited supply there is being sold through grocery stores. All the folks who usually buy the cheap frozen now moved up scale. (Bargain Market sold out, Smart & Final sold out, remember?)

    That’s my best guess, anyway. Still reasonable price in the Central Valley as they were likely always supplied by their local growers (as that’s where the poultry is grown here). Then, no extra truckers to haul a double load to the Bay Area anyway and no contract in place for the supply, so “deal with it”.

    Tomorrow I’m going to make a run to a “nearby” farm area and price check there. It ought to confirm my thesis… or not.

  14. Nancy & John Hultquist says:

    There was a report about 10 days ago that Panic2020 was introducing people to roasting a turkey when they had not done so before, and knew zilch** about cooking anything. Grocery stores were selling out of turkeys. If large family gatherings are prohibited — where a single 24 pounder is used — then each family subset needs a turkey. There are not 4 to 6 pound turkeys. So, many 2-person or 3-person families end up with a 18 to 20 pound turkey. Thus, turkey seem scarce, left-overs are plentiful. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
    **Many years ago a member of a horse riding club invited members to her place (next to forest land) for a ride and Thanksgiving dinner. She knew how to make toast and mac-n-cheese.
    When the turkey was being carved, the packet of neck, liver, heart, and so on (in paper) had to be extracted from the cavity. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

    Chickens work well for 2 or 3-person families. Will also mention roasting just the hindquarter(s).
    We had chicken hindquarter tonight, but usually frosen turkey hinds are available. I think that is because resturants serve only breast meat as their meals with turkey.

  15. V.P. Elect Smith says:

    Oh, and as WatchinIt pointed out here
    https://chiefio.wordpress.com/2020/12/14/huge-solarwinds-systems-hack-of-government/#comment-136633

    https://www.uaex.edu/media-resources/news/november2020/11-06-2020-Ark-COVID-econ-turkey-prices.aspx

    Says there’s a 1.5% production drop and about a 10% price bump. (So somewhat inelastic demand curve… people WANT their holiday bird…)

    But that would just move your 79 ¢ bird to 89 ¢ and your 99 ¢ Foster Farms to $1.10, not $2.00, so there’s something more going on too.

    Thus my “L.A. Curfew & Lockdown / House Arrest / all services closed” scenario.

    And especially if they already have ready buyers for a reduced supply in the rest of the country, why fight your way across L.A. for the privilege of a 12 to 15 hour drive from Phoenix (likely 20 to 24 with mandatory rest periods) and deal with all that other crap if folks from Shreveport to Dallas to Albuquerque to Phoenix are able to suck up a few extra million birds (and maintain their regular supply…)

    Basically, 150 Million birds on table, 1.5 % means 2.25 million “short” for the rest of the country. IF the Bay Area gets 1.75 million from our local fresh suppliers that would leave that 2.25 million as “shipped in frozen from Arkansas and related”. So just short the Bay Area, blame it on weather so no penalty for ‘failure to deliver’ from the contract, and fill everyone else along the road. Tell California to screw off…

    Essentially, we’re at the far end of the supply chain for Eastern Frozen turkeys, so the pipeline runs out just outside of Phoenix… eastern edge of L.A.

  16. V.P. Elect Smith says:

    @N.&J.H.:

    Good thesis. I can see that… We usually have a 3 family shared dinner at Thanksgiving and Christmas. This year was 3 separate meals. Hmmm….

    I like buying just parts of a Turkey, mostly as spouse and I prefer the dark meat parts and the breast meat not so much. (Though properly barded and larded with butter and not overcooked it can be quite nice when not a week old and refrigerator dried…) But lately it’s been more like $3 / lb for that. Might as well get the whole turkey at 1/3 that per pound and about the same overall… ( I make a great turkey soup with leftover meat).

    We already eat a lot of chicken, since we found that beef gives creaky joints. Basically we’re lamb 1 or 2 days a week, fish 2, and that leaves 3 or 4 for chicken & ham… So for us turkey is a nice change of pace.

    Golly, just realized that last year COSTCO had duck in the case too, and this year it isn’t there either. Wonder where the duck was shipped from… (Large Asian population likes duck here…)

    We still have LOTS of chicken supply as lots of local growers for fresh delivery and not much of a frozen market.

    Hmmm…. Now that I think about it, the frozen whole chickens were missing at Bargain Basement Grocery Outlet…(or whatever ;-) as were the frozen “turkey burger chubs” of 1 pound each.

    The “impediment to frozen meat shipping through L.A.” thesis is getting more evidence…

  17. James Glendinning says:

    Here in north Georgia…

    Publix frozen young turkey= .79 lb.

    Greenwise fresh turkey= 1.69 lb.

    Publix deli fully cooked turkey dinner= $49.99 and comes with dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry orange relish, and marshmallow delight. Serves 7-10.

    https://www.publix.com/search/savings?searchTerm=Turkey

    I did the turkey dinner for my infirmed brother and his family- it was fantastic! Just picked it up and reheated everything at the house. Clean-up was just plates and silverware- everything else was tossed in the garbage (except the leftovers). But that was Thanksgiving.

    Christmas is usually lamb (Lamb of God?) or a standing rib roast.

  18. Simon Derricutt says:

    Here in SW France, the local Lidl sells bits of chicken and turkey at around the same price, with around 3.5 euros/kg ($1.9/lb) for chicken bits and 3.9 euros/kg ($2.16/lb) for turkey bits. Whole chickens at around 3.5 euros/kg, but no whole turkeys (not really a thing here, I think). No shortages visible. IIRC duck was around the 5 euros/kg mark ($2.8/lb). Then again, the duck is a by-product of producing foie gras, so it’s cheaper here than it would be elsewhere. Of course, you can easily find prices higher than this if you go for the various “higher quality” marques, but I’ve no idea as to whether they’d be worth the extra. Regulations in general impose a pretty high standard on farming in general here, so instead of seeing broiler-houses I mostly see birds in open fields.

    An extra data-point for consideration. Prices do seem to have risen faster than official inflation for food over the last year. Sardines and tuna maybe 50% more than a year ago.

  19. agimarc says:

    It’s been an odd year for purchases, with rolling shortages based on local, nationwide panics, and shortages based on lots and lots of people being home. For instance:

    – Lots of gardening stuff was sold out early, 4-6 weeks before normal ordering. This included seeds, starts, Aerogardens, and supplies for all.
    – Bullets, particularly popular handgun ammo has been in short supply since early summer (at least up here in ANC). OTOH, more shotgun shells available than you know what to do with.
    – Nitrile gloves at Costco have been in short supply to nonexistent since March.
    – Christmas trees here in ANC were sold out at least a week early. Several small businesses who sell in local lots didn’t show up, leading to the shortage.

    I am guessing the food shortage is tied in some way to people not going out to eat any more and cooking in, leading to the expected shortage.

    Merry Christmas to one and all. Cheers –

  20. philjourdan says:

    Hmmm – yep! The Gruesome Newsome mandate. Means more people wants turkeys for smaller gatherings. So demand/bird is up, but demand per/lb is not. That would explain it. The grim reaper of Cali strikes again.

  21. Chazz says:

    We like our turkey with nothing added. Paid $1.89 per pound for an 11 pound hen at Frazier Farms Market here in San Diego County. I get an excellent result cooking over charcoal on my Char Griller (looks like a Weber but sealed and insulated) – hold the temperature at about 350F for about an hour. Sip Chianti during the process. Turkey may not be the best metric for inflation because of seasonality. I use eggs and apples for that.

  22. V.P. Elect Smith says:

    @Chazz:

    Thanks for the So.Cal data point. Looks like the price drops as you reach San Diego by about 10 ¢ to 50 ¢ / lb. IF it is also about that much lower in the San Bernardino / Weed run, we’ve got our pattern… Lower cost the closer you get to not needing to cross L.A. during a hard lockdown / curfew.

  23. President Elect H.R. says:

    here’s the Eastern Midwest data point. I was oot and aboot today. I forgot to check turkey prices at Walmart. Sorry.

    Meijer – Spiral sliced lean really good ham – 89¢ per pound
    Young hen turkey, about 11 -13 lbs and no go-go juice added – $2.49 per pound
    Big toms 18 – 24 lbs, Meijer house brand, injected – 39¢ per pound!

    I think most everyone has already picked up their turkeys. There was no-one at the case as I came down the aisle to it. I didn’t see any carts with turkeys in them, and the whole time I was rummaging through the case to check sizes and prices, no-one came by to look at the birdies.

    Costco Sold out – no turkeys

    I have no idea if their shipments were small or, it’s the 22nd, everyone bought early to be sure to get one or maybe a bit of both. Plenty of prime rib, though.

    Also, today was probably a bad day to look, because if you bought a frozen turkey, you needed to snag one early for best selection, and I’ve found refrigerator thawing takes at least 4 days for one of the big birds. So people needed to get a bird in time to thaw it.

  24. V.P. Elect Smith says:

    @H.R.:

    Nice data. 39 ¢ ?! Just OMG…

    I finally did the Country Run I was supposed to do yesterday. Little farm town a few dozen miles away. COSTCO had NO Turkey, leading me to think they had a central corp. decision not to carry, at least in California. Not even an empty spot in the cold case.

    Walmart, who have their own distribution / trucking out of Arkansas where the birds are cheap:

    Jenny-O mid-scale brand, frozen, with modest injected stuff: 69 ¢ / lb. and LOTS of them.
    Butter-Ball upscale brand: $1.69 / lb (Significantly less than other stores around me) Maybe 5 left in the case.

    I think this supports my guesses above. Walmart doesn’t care about what the shipper wants, they ARE the shipper. Corporate says “Fill the inventory demand” and the truck is sent. Period. THEY have lots of frozen turkeys cheap.

    Also, trucks can “rest” at each Walmart, eat from the store, and sleep in their truck if needed. Some also sell Diesel.

    Other stores, distributors find it easier to sell out closer to supply and don’t care about the store so much. Can make an excuse of “weather” and / or L.A. Curfew.

    COSTCO, seeing price hike, says “Screw it, we just won’t violate our 99¢ fresh standard, just don’t buy them and sell something else instead”.

    Each in keeping with their Corporate Culture and operational style.

    So, OK, I found out I can get very cheap Turkey by driving to Walmart in the country, then make up a BIG batch of dog food…

    (Dog Food from Trader Joe’s was discontinued, pending a new provider. It was the only canned dog food our dogs didn’t have issues with… so I’m “Chef for dogs” until January when they claim to have the new stuff in… I’m cooking “Bird + Stuff” for them. (Rice, pumpkin, peas, etc., so they can have the injected turkey ;-)

  25. Terry Jackson says:

    Southeast Nevada, whole chicken at $1/lb, frozen medium turkey at about $1.50/lb. Whole prime rib at $4.99/lb for Choice (about $100 for the whole primal) and New York Roast for $3.99/lb., all bone in. Got a supply for the freezer. Sometimes chicken breast is at or under $1/lb.

  26. V.P. Elect Smith says:

    @Terry Jackson:

    Since Nevada comes to a point in the South, wouldn’t South East and South West Nevada be the same place? Laughlin?

    ;-)

  27. PhilJourdan says:

    @EM – it is the Southeast section of the point! People are very territorial!

  28. Terry Jackson says:

    @ V,P, Elect Smith
    About 90 miles north of Vegas, where NV, AZ and UT meet.

  29. V.P. Elect Smith says:

    @Terry:

    I was just using the opportunity for a pun / joke … It just kind of tickled a little bit to think of being in Laughlin and saying I was where South East and South West Nevada merge… ;-0 Or maybe saying “I live in a big place, it stretches from Southeast Nevada to Southwest Nevada!”

    BTW, love Zion National Park. Stunning drive, what with the red road made with local rocks matching the canyons… I envy you being so close to it.

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