Turkey meat’s screwy pricing

Nov 26, 2015
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Turkey meat’s screwy pricing

Nov 26, 2015
HTML EMBED:
COPY

While Thanksgiving is a unifying holiday, the turkey itself divides us into two camps: lovers of dark meat and lovers of white meat.  

If you’re in the dark meat category, “you’re in the minority,” said Thomas Elam, president of FarmEcon. “And we in the turkey industry appreciate your taste for dark meat cause it’s a product we wish we could sell more of.”

White meat is sold for domestic consumption, and dark meat is exported more.

But dark meat’s time has come. Maybe. For a minute.  

Because right now, the price of white meat is surging. “Turkey breast meat is now twice its normal level,” said Elam.

The price of dark meat, on the other hand, has fallen dramatically. 

“When you talk drumsticks, they were down anywhere from 40 to 46 percent,” said David Harvey, an agricultural economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The culprit behind these contradictory price movements? Bird Flu.

“Bird flu had two big impacts,” said Harvey. “One was the reduction in the quantity of birds available for sale.”

Fewer birds, less meat, higher prices. That explains the increase in white meat prices, but not the fall in dark meat prices. Bird Flu’s second impact: “a number of countries banned importation of U.S. poultry products,” said Harvey. 

Countries that normally buy our unwanted dark meat have now either banned or restricted its importation. The result is that tons of glorious dark meat stayed home, deliciously driving down the price.  

Incidentally, bird flu is not expected to affect the prices of Thanksgiving turkeys. Many of those turkeys were purchased and frozen in March or early 2015, before this year’s bird flu outbreak hit. It also, according to the National Turkey Federation, tended to hit barns that happened to be full of male turkeys.

Males, known as Toms, can reach 40 pounds and are used for breast meat, drumsticks, and processed meat for products like chorizo. Hens, on the other hand, are raised to be smaller  around 14–16 pounds — and are the usual source for Thanksgiving turkeys.

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.