Bigger turkeys, higher prices: Thanksgiving dinner will cost you more this year

  • LaVerne and Jim Jenz of Hawthorn Woods look over the turkeys for sale at Sunset Foods in Long Grove on Friday.

    LaVerne and Jim Jenz of Hawthorn Woods look over the turkeys for sale at Sunset Foods in Long Grove on Friday. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Sunset Foods meat department manager Danny Smith looks some of the 250 frozen Butterball turkeys in the freezer at the Long Grove store.

    Sunset Foods meat department manager Danny Smith looks some of the 250 frozen Butterball turkeys in the freezer at the Long Grove store. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Turkeys for sale at Sunset Foods in Long Grove are a sign of the season, but Thanksgiving food tabs will rise this year.

    Turkeys for sale at Sunset Foods in Long Grove are a sign of the season, but Thanksgiving food tabs will rise this year. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • A sign hanging near the customer service desk at the Long Grove Sunset Foods store tells customers to reserve their fresh turkey orders.

    A sign hanging near the customer service desk at the Long Grove Sunset Foods store tells customers to reserve their fresh turkey orders. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Thanksgiving trimmings are displayed at the Sunset Foods in Long Grove.

    Thanksgiving trimmings are displayed at the Sunset Foods in Long Grove. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 11/13/2021 8:29 AM

With food prices up more than 6%, Thanksgiving dinner this year is expected to cost more than in the past, but finding a turkey for the table shouldn't be a problem.

Bring an appetite, though, because smaller birds may be harder to find due to higher demand, as families are expected to again host scaled-down gatherings.

 

Those hosting larger feasts can relax, as birds 16 pounds and over will be readily available. Processing delays caused by labor shortages meant the birds stayed on the farm longer this year and got bigger.

"They were able to eat a little more, so you can eat a little more," said Greg Koeppen, executive director of the Lake County Farm Bureau.

Because of higher feed prices and supply disruptions, consumers can expect to pay about 10% more per bird this year, although prices will vary, Koeppen said.

At Orchard Prime Meats in Lake Zurich, fresh Amish turkeys to order are $3.59 per pound, up 50 cents or 16%, from last year, according to owner Brian Gerk.

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"Prices have gone up quite a bit on everything," he said.

In the Chicago area, food prices as measured by the Consumer Price Index increased 4.6% for the year ending in September. A report Wednesday showed food prices in the region increased 6.1% over the past 12 months ending in October.

That doesn't mean trimmings for the Thanksgiving table won't be available.

"One thing we'd like to make very clear is farmers are still farming -- there's plenty on the shelves even if the price is a little higher," Roger Cryan, chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said last week.

The organization is crunching numbers in advance of Nov. 18, when it releases its annual report on the average nationwide cost of a holiday meal for 10 people.

Savings.com puts the average Thanksgiving dinner cost for eight adults at $39.85, or just under $5 per person, in 2021. The highest is $55.87 in Anchorage, Alaska, and the lowest is $35.09 in Louisville, Kentucky.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

According to the farm bureau federation, 8% of what consumers pay at the store goes to farmers. The remainder is for shipping, handling, processing and other expenses.

"Very often when prices rise, farmers aren't getting that," Cryan said. "It's the rest of the system."

Restaurants in Libertyville are reporting 10% to 20% increases in the cost of food, according to Jennifer Johnson, executive director of Main Street Libertyville.

Some restaurants that last year offered turkey dinners for pickup are not doing it this year, she said, due to staffing shortages.

With pandemic mandates in place at this time last year, some restaurants offered Thanksgiving dinners as a way to keep workers employed, said Brian Grano, owner of Mickey Finn's Brewery. This year, the overworked staff will get the day off, Grano said.

Factors such as the highest inflation rate in 30 years, issues getting goods to market, and a shortage of aluminum and metal to make cans or resins for plastics are contributing to higher costs for all types of items.

"This will probably be one of the most expensive Thanksgivings," said John Cortesi, president and CEO of Sunset Food Marts Inc. "It's a combination of a lot of things." Sunset is a family-owned business founded in 1937 with locations in Highland Park, Lake Forest, Northbrook, Libertyville and Long Grove.

Many forces are at play in the economy, said Vernon Hills resident Jon Hauptman, senior director with Inmar Intelligence, an analytics firm focused on the food industry.

"It's really the perfect storm to cause the cost of everything to increase," he said. "It starts with labor -- that's both for suppliers and retailers."

Other causes for price increases include shortages of materials for canned goods and severe weather that hurt crops and doubled the price of corn feed for farm animals, Hauptman said.

As it has for decades, Sunset is taking orders for fresh Ho-Ka turkeys from the family-owned and -operated Kauffman Turkey Farms, in Waterman, west of Naperville. Butterball frozen turkeys already are in coolers at Sunset and other supermarkets.

Fresh turkeys account for about 70% of the thousands of turkeys Sunset sells each Thanksgiving season, Cortesi said.

"They've assured us there will be plenty of fresh birds," he said. "On the frozen side, the smaller birds might be a little more scarce."

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