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Thanksgiving 2021: Buy Early, Expect Higher Prices, Look for Substitutes

Following a year of supply chain issues and inflation, Thanksgiving dinner could look a little different—and more expensive—this year.

Consumer Reports found that turkey prices could go up anywhere from 10 to 15% this holiday season, while The New York Times wrote that this year’s Thanksgiving feast could be the “most expensive meal in the history of the holiday.”

And price isn’t the only change. Here’s a closer look at what to expect:


“Most retailers put in their Thanksgiving orders many, many months in advance of the holidays and production and harvesting has been in full force since,” said Anne-Marie Roerink President of 210 Analytics. “So, while I do not expect to have a turkey shortage, the multitude of ongoing supply chain issues will make their impact on Thanksgiving dinner.”

The effects of COVID-19, labor shortages, transportation issues, and lack of packing materials could all have an impact, Roerink said. Additionally, high feed costs are affecting production inputs. “Feed costs are due to labor and transportation constraints as well as varying harvest levels and, importantly, oil-focused demand that is competing with livestock feed inputs,” she added.

Back in August, The Food Institute reported that Thanksgiving turkeys could be in short supply, with companies such as Cargill and Shady Brook Farms reporting supply struggles.

Recent IRI data also suggests that shoppers should prepare to make substitutions, given supply chain risks in key categories. Product availability in the whipped toppings, liquid gravy, bakery pies and frozen pie/pastry shells categories were between 5 and 13 percentage points lower this week than the same time last year.

“If I had to sum it up, I’d estimate that there will be ample meat for the holidays, but price points are likely going to be higher than they have been in recent years. In all fairness, turkey is not alone in this. There is equal supply pressure on holiday cuts such as ham or rack of lamb,” Roerink said, adding that there may also not be as much depth in size variety or refrigerated versus frozen.

Other items across the store are also dealing with lower in-stocks and price inflation, including vegetables, paper goods and other items for Thanksgiving dinner. Produce inflation is a bit milder than the levels seen in meat, and fruit prices have increased more rapidly than vegetables, Roerink noted.

IRI suggests that manufacturers should keep product allocation strategies nimble to accommodate in-stock level variation across regions.

The turkey shortage could even impact Americans abroad as evidenced by a shortage in Hong Kong, reported Fortune (Nov. 1). Hong Kong’s American-style deli Morty’s offers festive turkey menus during the Canadian and American Thanksgiving holidays and Christmas. However, it already sold out of its seven-kilogram birds in just the first few days of October.


On the consumer side, surveys conducted by 210 Analytics in the early summer pointed to a near normalization of holiday celebrations as early Thanksgiving.

“Ninety percent of consumers expected to celebrate Christmas like normal, aka, as if COVID never happened,” said Roerink. Likewise, shopping and consumption patterns were starting to approach pre-pandemic levels.

However, she added that the recent upswing in COVID-19 cases has brought some reversal in this normalization. “Meals shifted back to the home, more people went back to buying groceries online versus in-store and, without a doubt, we’ll also see some changes in celebration plans for Thanksgiving,” she said.

“In 2020, gatherings were smaller and people traveled much less. This is a likely outcome for 2021 as well unless we see a drastic reduction in COVID-19 case counts soon.”

It also means more demand for smaller turkeys, which may be hard to meet given the time requirements for placing orders and size limitations.

Additionally, consumers are buying a greater range of cuts than they did pre-pandemic with rising comfort levels to prepare roasts, ribs, lamb, seafood, etc. This could lead to more high-end meat items on Thanksgiving menus at smaller gatherings, including prime rib, ribeyes, and pork roast, or a combination of turkey with another meat option.

“We recommend everyone to purchase early to put less stress on the system those very busy days right before the holiday,” said Roerink.