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Food & Drink

Rising costs are nibbling at Thanksgiving budgets this year in Baltimore

Baltimoreans prepping for Thanksgiving dinner can add one more item to the shopping list this year: higher prices.

Rising costs for everything from turkey to cans of pumpkin are putting a strain on budgets as the country continues to deal with burgeoning inflation rates. Overall inflation was 7.7% in October, according to the Consumer Price Index, which tracks the fluctuating costs of goods and services.

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The growth in grocery prices was even more substantial, at 12.4%.

“It’s a real thing that it’s going to be more expensive,” said Laurence Ball, a professor of economics at the Johns Hopkins University. “There’s been inflation in general, but [the increasing cost of] food at home has been faster than inflation, and certainly faster than people’s wages have been growing.”

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Driving prices higher are factors that include supply chain issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for goods that continues to outstrip supply, and rising costs for energy and products such as grain due to the war in Ukraine.

Emmy Dallam, who runs Homelands Poultry, feeds turkeys slated for butchering for the holiday season.

Turkey, the centerpiece for many Thanksgiving tables, could be especially expensive this year. On top of inflation, poultry farmers are facing a shortage of birds due to an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza, colloquially known as bird flu. More than 7 million meat-producing turkeys have died from the flu so far in 2022, according to an October report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Though the biggest outbreaks happened in states such as California, Minnesota and Utah, Baltimore-area turkey farms are feeling the ripple effects.

“I think what’s happening nationally is happening locally,” said Chris Bohrer, who owns the Sho Nuf Turkey Farm in Fulton.

Bohrer said his orders of baby turkeys, called poults, were slightly smaller this year after hatcheries cut back on the number of birds they were able to ship. Many farmers also raised fewer turkeys because of reduced demand during the pandemic.

“Everyone in the industry thought last year was going to change how people celebrate Thanksgiving, because during COVID, it was smaller gatherings,” Bohrer said. Sho Nuf sold lots of 10- to-15-pound turkeys over the past two years. But demand is roaring back for what he calls a “midrange turkey,” weighing 16 to 20 pounds, as people plan larger dinners. Bohrer said he’s already had to cut off retail orders this season for turkeys of that size.

Emmy Dallam gathers bedding for turkeys on Homelands Poultry farm.

Sho Nuf Turkey Farm, which processes just under 20,000 turkeys a year, has had to raise the price of a whole bird by 20 cents per pound to keep up with inflation. Bohrer said essentials such as feed and fuel are much more expensive than last year.

“We try to share that cost with the consumer, where we take a little bit of the hit and they take a little bit of the hit,” he said. Customers looking to buy a fresh Sho Nuf turkey this Thanksgiving season will pay $2.95 per pound, plus a $6 “drawing charge” that covers cleaning and packaging the bird.

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Emmy Dallam, who raises turkeys at Homelands Poultry in Churchville, also had to increase her prices by 20 cents a pound this year. But that didn’t deter her customers: By Halloween, every turkey she planned to sell this season had been spoken for. One customer even asked in August to reserve a bird.

“That’s probably the fastest time I’ve sold that many birds,” Dallam said.

Andy Bachman of Andy’s Eggs and Poultry in Fallston, said he, too, saw a “big increase in demand” for turkeys. In a text message, Bachman said he had to stop taking orders Nov. 5 for the 300 birds he raised this year.

Consumers are more likely to accept higher prices for a turkey because it’s a staple of the traditional Thanksgiving meal, said Jonathan Wright, an economics professor at Hopkins.

“For some things, when the supply goes down and the price goes up, people will substitute to buying something else instead,” Wright said. “In the case of a turkey, most people are just going to really want the turkey for Thanksgiving. So that means the demand is not going to go down, and the price is going to have to go up.”

But when it comes to the rest of dinner, shoppers may choose to replace some ingredients with less expensive options.

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“People will drop other things from the basket of goods and replace them with cheaper ones,” Wright said. “That’s a natural way in which people will respond to inflation.”

Still, home cooks are likely to experience some sticker shock when shopping for even the Thanksgiving basics.

A dozen eggs have more than doubled in cost since last year, with an average carton priced at $2.28, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A 30-ounce can of pumpkin, meanwhile, is 17% more expensive, a 5-pound bag of russet potatoes costs 46% more and the price tag for a 16-ounce box of stuffing is up 14%, per Datasembly, a market research firm.

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One way frugal shoppers can cut down on costs is to buy a frozen turkey, rather than a fresh one. At Giant Food stores in Baltimore, frozen turkeys were priced as low as 37 cents a pound recently. Other supermarket chains are pushing discounts: Walmart, for instance, has pledged to sell turkeys for less than $1 a pound, and Aldi’s “Price Rewind” campaign promises to bring costs for Thanksgiving essentials in line with 2019 prices.

After months of news stories about rising inflation, Ned Atwater said he hasn’t encountered any customers who are surprised about higher costs. Atwater, who sells Thanksgiving sides and meals through his Atwater’s cafe chain, hasn’t seen much of a difference in holiday sales this season, despite having to raise prices.

“Everybody knows prices have gone up,” he said. “So far, no one has said, ‘You guys are overcharging.’”

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Rodney Henry, the owner of Dangerously Delicious Pies in Hampden, is preparing to sell hundreds of pies in flavors such as pumpkin, sweet potato, peanut butter and caramel apple crumb in the coming week. He said demand is still strong among individual shoppers, but he’s noticed a decline in sales to businesses.

“Usually we get a few hundred pies ordered from businesses” giving their employees pies for Thanksgiving, Henry said. “That business has fallen off a bit. The price of everything has gone up and everybody’s feeling it, big-time.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Jonathan Wright’s name.


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