Why Is Turkey So Expensive? (Meat Guides)

It’s funny, turkey is probably one of the most popular meats eaten in celebration of the holiday season. Plus i know countless people who simply love eating turkey.

So, why isn’t it eaten much more frequently than it is, all year round?

Could it be that turkey is just so expensive!

I almost fell over when I saw the price of a full turkey, and this was in March!

So naturally I had to get to the bottom of it. Here’s absolutely everything I found piercing together why turkey is so expensive – so you don’t have to!

Why Is Turkey So Expensive?

Turkey is the leaner, more expensive cousin of chicken. Although both birds are similar, their price points set them apart. A full turkey is often considerably more expensive than a whole chicken, pound for pound.

So why is turkey so expensive? Well, it seems it comes down to a few key reasons. These being, the season, desired market weight, and reduced production, especially around non-holiday seasons. 

Here’s the full story.

Season

The holiday season is the peak of turkey consumption because of the traditional dinner where roast turkey is served on Thanksgiving and Christmas. As such, it should come as no surprise that turkey’s are mass-produced to cater -almost exclusively- to these occasions.

In comparison, the rest of the year shows a drastically lower demand. According to the simple economics concept of supply and demand, the price of turkey during the holidays is likely to be higher if there’s increased demand and limited supply.

Normally, the goal of retailers who sell turkey during the holidays is to sell as many birds as possible due to higher competition. Consequently, there’s a bigger chance of discounts around Thanksgiving and Christmas to lure customers in.

Although there are hardly any “left-over” turkeys. If the suppliers forecast that enough turkeys are in supply, then they end up freezing them for more longevity. Although frozen turkeys are a bit cheaper, they too are on the rise.

Market Weight

Another major contributor to the pricing of turkey, is that it takes considerably longer to raise a turkey to market weight, than it does for other poultry, like chicken. We’re talking about 4 months for a turkey to hit its desired weight, whereas chickens are frequently processed from as young as about 7 weeks old.

This means there is a much larger cost to raising turkeys, as you need to feed them for much longer per bird.

Turkey feed is also more expensive than chicken feed, which just adds to the investment cost for raising turkeys.

Decline In Production

The decline in overall turkey production is another reason why the prices of the bird are on the rise. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there’s an estimated 1.5 percent reduction in turkey production from 2020 to 2021, that’s an 84 million pound drop.

Not to mention, the Covid-19 pandemic has laid ruin to many businesses and laid off employees or had them working remotely if possible. The effect of this change on an industry like agriculture where remote work is mostly impractical is a slow-down in production, pretty much to a crawl of what’s considered normal. 

Additionally, Covid infections among employees had caused a number of production facilities to temporarily close. This led to an even bigger drop in poultry production, as well as beef and timber.

Another reason related to Covid is that the nature of poultry and meat processing in general in the time of the pandemic could involve the reduced availability of certain products. For example, lighter-weight turkeys and breast turkey meat.

This effect could be felt for years to come. Not good for someone who likes to smoke turkey on their charcoal grill every few months!

Why is Turkey More Expensive than Chicken?

Aside from the general seasonality and decline in production of turkey meat, there are several other reasons why turkeys are more expensive than their leaner, less expensive cousin: the chicken.

These include:

  • Turkeys need more feed since they’re bigger in size than chickens and reach their target weight much later than chickens.
  • Turkeys require more space to keep, including larger land and a larger coop.
  • Turkey feed is more expensive as it’s a higher protein content than chicken feed (16% vs. 18-20%).
  • There is much less demand for turkey than chicken, so there are a lot less “players in the game” producing turkeys.

Why Is Ground Turkey More Expensive?

Ground turkey is more expensive than ground beef, ground chicken, or ground pork simply because there is much less demand for it.

Well it’s not exactly that simple, but it does play a huge part in it. Further to this, turkeys are preferably sold as whole turkeys, as there is less work put into the process, meaning less steps between farming and consumption.

Although ground turkey is certainly a lot cheaper than turkey breast or a whole turkey, it’s still a touch above the other ground meat in most states, in most seasons, and most of the time!

Final Thoughts

So it all makes sense now. We may not like it, but it’s the price to pay for an amazing centerpiece for any feast, or high protein, high deliciousness meal.

The price of turkey comes down to the high impacts of seasonality, the much longer and pricier investment into raising turkeys, and the overall decline in production.

It’s likely that some of these factors may change in the future, but it’s just as likely that turkey will remain to be one of the more expensive pound for pound poultry meats.

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