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Little escape from higher prices for holiday meats

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While prices have risen for turkey — the No. 1 consumer choice for a holiday meal entrée — they have also increased for other potential holiday meat entrees many consumers may choose in lieu of a gobbler for the holidays, according to Texas A&M AgriLife experts.

David Anderson, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service economist in the Department of Agricultural Economics in Bryan-College Station, said market forces and avian influenza have disrupted the turkey supply chain and driven prices upward.

While the number of fresh turkeys may not be as plentiful this year, there do appear to be a larger number of frozen ones available, he said. However, a frozen turkey typically requires several days to properly thaw, so consumers need to accommodate the extra time when planning their holiday meal.

Frozen hen and tom prices were $0.97 and $0.95 per pound respectively last week compared to $0.88 and $0.89 per pound at this time last year.

“However, some perspective is useful,” Anderson said. “At a 20-cent-per-pound increase over last year, a 16-pound turkey would be $3.20 higher than last year,” he said. “In that case, a turkey may not be a bad deal for the family celebration.”

Some holiday meat alternatives

Some consumers may be looking at alternative meat entrees for their holiday celebration, Anderson said.

As far as alternatives go, beef and pork supplies are actually in much better shape than they were a year ago, said Davey Griffin, AgriLife Extension meat specialist in the Department of Animal Science in Bryan-College Station.

“There should be plenty of hams, prime ribs and steaks for consumers to purchase,” Griffin said. “However, all of these have gone through substantial price increases.”

According to the National Pork Board, 24% of individuals consume ham as an entrée at least one time during an average two-week period. It is estimated that approximately 318 million pounds of ham is consumed on Christmas, which puts it squarely into second place as the nation’s most popular holiday meats.

U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows ham, pork loin and other pork products should be generally available for the holidays, but these, too, have undergone price increases and consumers should be prepared to pay more than last year.

Anderson noted wholesale ham prices already indicate there may be some substitution planning going on.

“Spot market wholesale hams were $1.01 per pound last week compared to $0.53 per pound last year at the same week,” he said. “This indicates the expectation of a higher-than-normal demand for ham.”

Anderson also said the recent USDA weekly retail report from grocery stores for a host of items showed ribeye roasts were $9.79 per pound compared to $10.73 per pound last year. Rack of lamb was reported at $16.99 per pound compared to $17.20 per pound last year. And wholesale ribeye steaks averaged $10.48 per pound last week compared to $11.49 per pound the same time last year.

“Wholesale ribeyes have begun their seasonal price increase that builds to Christmas before falling off,” he said.

Both Griffin and Anderson noted there have been some specials on steaks and roasts now that the weather has turned cooler, which may help consumers to expand their menus if they prefer to serve something besides the traditional turkey.

Pickin’ chicken might be another option

Roast chicken may also be an attractive choice as a holiday entrée, especially if there are fewer guests or if supplemented by an additional meat item.

The Nov. 4 Broiler Market News Report from the USDA noted whole broiler/fryer prices are trending steady and supplies are moderate for current needs. It also noted retail and food-service demand was moderate, processing schedules were normal and floor stocks were sufficient to meet consumer demand.

“The turkey industry and egg industry have been hit harder by avian influenza than the broiler industry,” said Audrey McElroy, professor and head of the Department of Poultry Science in Bryan-College Station.

McElroy noted the chicken industry typically benefits during more austere or financially uncertain times because chicken is consistently lower in price than other popular meat proteins.

After a decade of rapid expansion to meet high demand, the industry ramp-up has been so successful that prices have been dropping. For example, spot wholesale prices for boneless, skinless breast meat reached a record high of about $3.50 in May, then dropped precipitously to under $1 per pound this October.

McElroy said this drop in price is likely the result of a combination of lower consumer demand combined with greater overall availability of chicken.

Additionally, according to the USDA, the price of Cornish game hens also has gone down from $2.87 per pound last year to $2.80 this year.

“With a strong supply and continued global growth in emerging markets, chicken continues to stand out as a less expensive option for an appealing source of protein for your holiday meal,” McElroy said.

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