Turkeys are scarce, plan ahead


Short supply and higher prices will force operators to consider alternatives.

As the holidays approach, it’s time to talk turkey about the 2022 turkey shortage.

A perfect storm of factors has driven up costs and availability of turkey products and whole birds. Blame it on mother nature and bad timing, explains Sarah Cooper, Gordon Food Service Centre of the Plate Category Manager.

“The bird flu this spring removed over 5 million turkeys off the market,” she said. “In addition, high summer heat has lowered the weights of available turkeys placing further constraints on an already challenged supply chain. We want to warn operators of current and future shortages so they can be prepared and plan ahead,” she said.

Fewer turkeys, higher costs

Turkeys incubated after a required waiting period are still in their grow-out cycle. The replacement birds won’t reach maturity in time for the demand surge of fall holidays.

The shortage doesn’t mean there are no turkeys. Distributors throughout North America are in the same predicament. They will get only a percentage of the birds booked before bird flu took its toll. Limited supply means higher prices, Cooper warns.

“People who have turkey on the menu year round are already seeing it,” she said. “The price right now is at a five-year high historic average and will likely go higher as we get closer to the holidays. This can equate to an increase of as much as 30% or more over last year.”

Finding turkey alternatives 

One way to plan ahead is to purchase turkeys early – if freezer space and product supply allows. Otherwise, operators should be open to other options. Cooper offers other considerations:

Menu alternatives. Try proteins that are a close match. Deli or oven-roasted chicken can be used in sandwich applications. Pulled and diced chicken can be used in similar methods to their turkey equivalents. “If you offer a turkey pot pie, maybe this year it can be a slightly different version as a chicken pot pie,” Cooper suggested. Whole chicken without giblets can be roasted and used in a similar manner to roasted turkey. With chicken, supply is not as affected as turkey. This is another option to consider given the lower price point and available supply.  

Gift box substitutes. Select ham instead of turkey for holiday gift box giveaways. “Our ham counterparts are not seeing supply issues like we are in poultry,” Cooper said. 

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