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Too many frozen turkeys, not enough fresh ones

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Too many frozen turkeys this holiday is driving prices down for consumers and creating headaches for wholesalers that store and distribute the centerpiece of the traditional holiday meal. But cooks in search of fresh birds may note shortages.

Bloomberg News reports that increased turkey production and slowing sales have left stockpiles of frozen turkeys at four-year highs. That has prompted grocers to slash retail prices for frozen birds produced by Cargill or Butterball. Quartz reported that the plastic packaging on frozen poultry has gotten so effective that frozen birds may be preserved for up to a year with “no detectible change in the quality of the bird.” In addition, the amount of freezer space to store turkeys increases every year.

As a result, farmers will sell turkeys on average for $1.01 to $1.05 a pound, as much as 4.8 percent less than a year earlier, the USDA estimates. But cooks can look to pay as little as 59 cents per pound because grocers discount the birds at this time of year as a “loss leaders.”

Meanwhile, WCCO reported that shoppers are seeing a shortage of fresh turkeys at some stores. The station said that North Carolina-based Butterball informed grocers that the supply of fresh turkeys have been cut in half. About 85 percent of the 46 million birds Americans eat at Thanksgiving are frozen, according to the National Turkey Federation.

Placement of poults, or turkeys that are a couple weeks old or younger, were down 10 percent throughout the summer because of high feed costs, said John Burkel, chairman of the National Turkey Federation and a fourth-generation turkey grower in Badger, Minn.

“There were cuts all the way across the industry to keep production levels around Thanksgiving manageable,” Burkel said. “Those cuts are going to show as we move forward in the fresh market.”

Minnesota is the largest turkey producer in the country and will produce about 46 million turkeys this year. Minnesota-based Jennie-O is right behind Butterball for top turkey sales.

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