Restaurants and retailers are facing a shortage of turkey-breast meat, with prices at a record high, reports Bloomberg News.
Avian influenza is to blame. The virus resulted in death or culling of eight million turkey, reducing slaughter to the lowest total in 15 years.
But there will be enough frozen hens to meet Thanksgiving demand, say industry people quoted by Bloomberg.
Hormel Foods Corp. said last week sales volumes at its Jennie-O Turkey Store will be down by 20 percent in the second half because of the flu.
Jersey Mike’s Subs, a franchise chain with more than 1,500 stores in 40 states, is carrying signs apologizing for being out of turkey.
The egg industry is short of supplies, especially for processing because multi-million-bird farms in Iowa that fed those plants have been wiped out. Iowa’s total egg production dropped by 40 per cent and retail egg prices have soared.
Wholesale prices for fresh turkey breasts increased by Monday to a record high of $5.70 a pound, up by 41 per cent from a year ago. That’s still far less than in the supply-managed turkey markets in Canada.
Prices for frozen turkeys are up 17 percent at $1.36 a pound, also a U.S. record.
“The prices for turkey-breast meat are so far above the previous record, it could be that some suppliers aren’t willing to pay enough to get it,” said Tom Elam, the Carmel, Indiana- based president of consulting firm FarmEcon LLC.
About two-thirds of the nation’s flock are raised for breast meat from toms that can weigh up to 50 pounds (22.7 kilograms), according to Elam.
It was those birds, rather than the smaller hens popular for Thanksgiving, that were disproportionately affected by the outbreak, he said.
Frozen whole hens are as plentiful as they were last year, said Keith Williams, a spokesman for the National Turkey Federation. Butterball LLC, the largest U.S. supplier, said it expects to meet all of its whole-bird orders for Thanksgiving.
It’s been months since the outbreak peaked, but the after-effects are still very real.
Affected farms are taking up to 12 weeks to return to normal following culls and the disinfecting. Getting production back to normal could take a year, Whitman said.
Domestic output will drop by 8.7 percent to 1.35 billion pounds (612,000 metric tons) in the third quarter, the lowest for the period since 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Production was also down last year to the lowest since 2010 after high feed costs stymied profits.
Finding enough poults to repopulate barns is now a problem, Whitman said. Turkey eggs in incubators at the start of September were down 15 percent from a year earlier, USDA data shows.
Bird flu could soon return as the weather gets colder. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on Tuesday sent out training materials to prepare turkey farmers.
Josie Capozzi, a spokeswoman for Jersey Mike’s sub chain, said chicken took pressure off the demand for turkey.
The chain introduced the Oven Roasted Chicken Club sub.
“It took a lot of pressure off of turkey, selling chicken,” said Dan Shanahan, the company’s Chicago area director.