Spending

Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas tree options will be sparse this year — here's why

"When we think about turkeys and trees, the transportation capacity is something that's going to play in."

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Getty/CSA Images and Euralis Weekes

Major supply chain issues have led to a scarcity of products manufactured both overseas and domestically. This includes holiday gifts, like toys and books, but also some of the season's most sought-after goods: Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas trees.

About 46 million turkeys are eaten every Thanksgiving, according to the National Turkey Federation. And between 25 and 30 million real Christmas trees are sold every year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.

Supply chain experts, business owners, and industry analysts believe there will be enough supply for everyone who wants one to get a turkey and a tree. However, this isn't the year to get picky. A shortage of labor has made it so inventory will be less varied and shelves won't be restocked as quickly as in years past, experts say.

A truck driver shortage, specifically, will affect availability of domestic products such as turkeys and trees, says Scott Grawe, chair of the department of supply chain management at Iowa State University. "When we think about turkeys and trees, the transportation capacity is something that's going to play in here," he says. "There is a huge demand for trucking capacity in several markets," one that a dwindling trucking workforce might not be able to satisfy.

All of this means: Shop early, even for items you wouldn't normally buy until the month or week before the holiday.

Turkeys

Frozen turkey inventory is sparser than it has been in previous years, says Sarah Anderson, the executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. Minnesota is the No. 1 turkey-producing state in the country. Every year, the state raises between 40 and 42 million birds, according to the association.

"Issues such as the labor shortage and the increase in turkey feed prices have been challenging to navigate for our farmers and processors," Anderson says. "We are seeing lower numbers in our frozen turkey supply compared to previous years."

Historically, frozen turkeys have been oversupplied, says Rebecca Scheuneman, a Morningstar analyst. The main problem this year will not be a lack of turkeys but a lack of diversity in size of turkeys, she says. Hormel, for example, "appears ready for the all-important holiday season," she says.

Hormel told Scheuneman during an investor relations group call, though, that it's unclear what size of turkey will be most sought-after. "It is difficult to predict what size birds will be in demand this season, which depends on how big gatherings will be," Scheuneman says. "So while the company feels that it was able to supply a sufficient number of birds, it is possible that the mix of sizes could be off, which could cause consumers to not be able to source the size of the bird they're searching for."

It is difficult to predict what size birds will be in demand this season, which depends on how big gatherings will be.
Rebecca Scheuneman
Morningstar analyst

Butterball appears to be having the same issue. "The best advice we can offer is to shop early if there is a specific turkey size or product you want at the center of your Thanksgiving meal," says company spokesperson Christa Leupen.

Another effect of the labor shortage: Turkey prices will likely go up. "While USDA turkey cold storage inventory is well below levels experienced in recent years, this does not reflect a shortage, but the market's oversupply the last few years," Scheuneman says. "This excess supply depressed prices for turkey."

When you go to the store, birds might be a few dollars more in order "to cover the inflation they're experiencing in raw materials, labor, packaging, and transportation," she says.

Christmas trees

Consumers may face similar challenges when it comes to Christmas trees.

Supply is "looking quite good," says George Richardson of Richardson Christmas Tree Farm in Spring Grove, Illinois. "Everybody will be able to find a tree, but if you're looking for a particular type, that type might not be available in your area."

During a typical year, drivers transport trees from region to region. The truck driver shortage is making that more challenging. "These major growers in North Carolina, they have a lot of trees growing, but it's difficult to get a truck full of trees for everyone who wants one," Richardson says. "We may not be able to get, for example, a Fraser fir to Florida, just because of logistics and transportation and demand for them. You may not get a noble fir from Oregon down to San Diego."

His advice: Don't tie your holiday too strongly to a type of tree. "Shop what's available and branch out and try a new variety this year," he says. "If you're locked into one particular type, try another and see what it looks like."

How to shop smart this holiday season

Another key piece of advice: Shop early, says Kristin McGrath, senior editor and shopping expert for RetailMeNot.

If you have the freezer space, buy your turkey ahead of time. For Christmas trees, many families get theirs the weekend after Thanksgiving — and buying closer to that date, rather than waiting until Christmas Eve, might be smarter this year.

Family cutting down Christmas tree at Richardson Farm.
Photo by George Richardson

"The key to shopping this season is to shop early if there's anything you must have," she says. "It's unclear how things will play out exactly, but supply chain issues will likely affect how long it takes your purchases to reach you and how quickly merchants can restock if things run out."

Last-minute shoppers should especially heed this warning, she says.

"Shopping in December is going to be really risky this year, not just because of delays in getting your stuff, but because of retailers' ability to restock throughout December," she says. "Stuff that sells out early might not come back in stock in time for you to buy it for the holidays."

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