INDIANAPOLIS – For Thanksgiving dinner, The Mozel Sanders Foundation usually has it down to a science, but an ongoing turkey shortage is slightly changing plans.
“The turkey shortage hit us in the face. We weren’t ready or prepared for that,” said COO Stephanie Sanders.
With turkey in short supply, Sanders said they’re still planning to serve about 10,000 Hoosiers for their annual Thanksgiving dinner, but pulled chicken will be the main course instead.
However, Sanders said they’ve been through this before, but not for quite some time. The last time they dealt with a turkey shortage, she said, was in the 90s. During that time, they served chicken in its place.
“A lot of people didn’t even know the difference, they said ‘Oh, this tastes good!” said Sanders.
Experts said opting for a different bird is one side-effect of the ongoing turkey shortage.
“Over the past few years, farmers have appeared to have collectively decided that turkeys are not very profitable, and so they’ve been raising fewer birds,” said Professor Kyle Cattani, Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. “This year, that decline in capacity was augmented dramatically. There was an Avian Bird Flu that required the destruction of many turkeys, exacerbating the problems of an already weak supply.”
“On the supply side of the equation, we see very many fewer birds available this year,” he said. “The demand side of the equation has also been complicated over the past couple of years with COVID.”
This time around, Cattani said it’s likely more families are planning to eat together in-person and have larger gatherings, which is driving up demand for turkeys.
Cattani said the high demand and limited supply will also likely result in significantly higher prices for the consumer, an effect Trisha Johnson already saw earlier in September.
“There was a 22% increase per pound this year,” she said. “We ordered 754 pounds of turkey, that’s a big chunk of change that we weren’t expecting.”
Johnson is one of the organizers behind Plainfield’s Free Thanksgiving Dinner, a community effort that’s offered meals through dine-in, drive-thru and delivery on the holiday for 18 years.
“This year, we have prepared to serve about 1300-1500 people,” said Johnson.
Johnson said organizers secured their turkeys in September, anticipating difficulties may happen.
“We were told early on that there may be an issue, so we secured our turkeys very early,” she said.
Despite the hardships, Johnson is hopeful neighbors will come grab a meal to help alleviate the higher costs impacting everyone’s lives.
“Save yourself the few dollars that you can, spend it on your kids, spend it on your grandbabies, and just come have a free meal with us,” she said.
Meanwhile, if you’re planning your own dinner and still hunting for a turkey, experts suggest keeping an eye out at local grocery stores.
“Some set the prices relatively low, perhaps even at a loss, so that customers will come in to buy a turkey but leave the store with a whole bunch of other stuff,” said Cattani. “It’s hard to predict exactly where the prices will go, but if you see a turkey at a good price, I recommend that you snatch it up.”