Washington area shoppers will find that turkey prices are up 10 to 20 cents a pound over last year because of small supplies and more demand, meaning the average bird will cost $1.50 to $3 more.
"About 169 million turkeys were raised this year, compared to 171 million last year," said Annette Arbel, director of consumer affairs for the National Turkey Federation, a Reston-based trade group of 2,000 turkey growers.
Arbel said that turkey growers tried to bring production in line with consumption this year to "get more realistic prices." But avian flu swept through many poultry farms, further reducing turkey supplies.
Turkey consumption has been rising. In 1983, Americans consumed 11.2 pounds of turkey per person, up from 10.7 pounds in 1982. About 40 percent of the turkey meat consumed in the nation is now eaten in the last quarter of the year, as families celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Arbel said the trend is toward year-round turkey consumption, as the processing industry turns out an increasing amount of turkey bologna, turkey pastrami, turkey ham, ground turkey, turkey hot dogs and smoked turkey.
Today, however, local supermarkets are bracing for shoppers searching for the traditional Thanksgiving turkey that can be trimmed, stuffed and roasted.
"People who want the large frozen turkeys will shop today, to be sure that they get one of the big birds," said George Hannis, director of meat purchasing for Giant Food Inc.
Hannis said that the major sales on Tuesday and Wednesday will be fresh turkey. "People don't want to get them too soon," he said.
Giant stores have five types of turkey, with frozen turkey ranging from 79 cents to 95 cents a pound, and fresh turkey from 99 cents to $1.09 a pound. Those prices are up about 10 cents a pound over last year, Hannis said.
Safeway frozen turkey ranges from 89 to 99 cents a pound; with fresh 89 cents to $1.29 a pound. Those prices are up 10 to 20 cents a pound over last year.
A 15-pound brand name frozen turkey will cost $14.85 this year, compared to last year's $13.35. But the increase for 15-pound house-brand turkeys is up $3, from $10.35 last year to $13.35 this year.
Sales of fresh turkeys continue to increase, though they cost more than frozen turkeys. The Butterball fresh turkey, for instance, sells for $1.29 a pound at Safeway stores, compared to 99 cents a pound for the Butterball frozen turkey.
"People buy the fresh turkey because of the taste," he said. "They think it is better than frozen and they are willing to pay extra to get the fresh turkey."