Bird Flu's Impact on the Retail Meat Case

Highly pathogenic avian influenza takes a toll on poultry, eggs
Lynn Petrak
Senior Editor
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Shoppers will face higher poultry and egg prices during the upcoming holidays, as bird flu continues to hamper production.

Bird flu is hitting some flocks in the United States hard, which will have various effects on the retail meat case. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 47 million birds have died in the latest round of avian influenza.

The 2022 outbreak is linked to a new strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) that has also circulated in Asia and Europe. The virus has sickened chickens as well as turkeys, which has led to some reports of turkey shortages ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. USDA estimated that turkey supplies are down 2-3% from last year.

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The National Turkey Federation, which has been tracking the outbreak and providing turkey producers and processors with updates, provided some reassurance, recently declaring to consumers, “Don’t worry, there will be turkeys available for your holiday table.”

While HPAI has led to significant culling of flocks this year, cases are down from previous months and there is a relatively robust supply of frozen birds. According to the cold storage report from the USDA for September, there are 254.69 million pounds of whole turkeys in freezers, albeit down 3% from the previous year.

Major turkey brands are also sharing updates on inventories. In its third quarter report released in September, Hormel Foods Corp. noted that volume and sales for its Jenni-O Turkey Store brands declined due to the “sudden impacts” on its supply chain from HPAI. During the quarterly earnings conference call that month, CEO James Snee acknowledged, "We've worked really hard but clearly this is still an issue.”

Even if there aren’t widespread shortages of turkeys for Thanksgiving, price points will be higher, thanks to the fallout from avian flu and higher feed prices for producers, dovetailing with already-spiking inflation within the grocery sector. “Lower industry-wide turkey supplies are expected to keep prices higher near term,” said Hormel CFO Jacinth Smiley, also in the conference call.

In August, the Butterball brand shared its Thanksgiving outlook that included concerns about rising prices. According to a survey conducted for Butterball, 55% of Thanksgiving hosts reported they are concerned about inflation and will look for deals for parts of the entire meal.

In addition to poultry products, including chicken, turkey and duck, the avian flu strain is affecting the price of another holiday staple. The rate of inflation in eggs has been particularly high this year, as U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average price for Grade A large eggs topped $3 in August, compared to $1.70 in August 2021.

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