Here’s what you can expect to pay for a turkey this Thanksgiving

If you want a small or fresh turkey, the hunt could be a challenge

You may not want to wait until the last minute to buy your Thanksgiving turkey. Production is down, prices are up, and small fresh birds are more challenging to find, experts say.

SAN ANTONIO – At Wiatrek’s Meat Market, co-owner Carter Ray hasn’t even trotted out the fresh turkeys and they’re already gobbled up.

“I even have a cancelation list,” he said. “I have about 20 people on a cancelation list for a small turkey - sold out, completely.”

He has some frozen birds, but securing fresh, all-natural turkeys - his niche- was a challenge.

The reason? There are just fewer turkeys this year.

“We are producing fewer turkeys than last year,” said David Anderson, an agriculture economist at Texas A&M University.

The high cost of feed is a primary reason that turkey production is down about 5% for the year. It was down closer to 2% last month.

“We are producing fewer turkeys,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we are going to run out. What that might mean is if you have a favorite size, weight, brand or fresh versus frozen, we may get to where there are shortages of that particular turkey. But, there will be other turkeys.”

His advice is to shop early and be flexible. Frozen and larger birds will be more available than smaller or fresh ones.

Wholesale prices are up about 18%, according to Anderson, but that doesn’t mean that’s what you’ll see at the store you shop. Some grocers price turkeys low and take a loss in order to get shoppers into the store to pick up the rest of the fixings.

As for turkey availability, H-E-B said it has a “good supply.”

A check of prices Friday found frozen Riverside brand turkeys at H-E-B for 87 cents a pound with an additional $20 purchase. Some limits apply.

At Walmart, frozen Honeysuckle brand turkeys were also priced at 87 cents per pound.

As for Ray, it’s hard to compete with supermarkets as far as pricing. His own costs are up 30% over last year and it’s eating into his profit margins.

“I knew if I advertised turkey over three dollars, it would widen people’s eyes,” Ray said.

He priced them at $2.99 a pound and customers snapped them up.

Food costs in general are widening eyes. They’re up more than 5% over last year for October. So, it’s not just the Thanksgiving feast that’s costing a wing and a leg.

About the Authors:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.