If you have not bought your Thanksgiving turkey yet, you may be out of luck. And it’s already a good time to preorder Christmas hams or rib roasts, local butchers said.
Prices for meat, poultry, fish and eggs purchased to eat at home rose 11.9 percent in October over the last year as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on supply chains, according to federal Consumer Price Index data. That category of foods saw the largest increase of any tracked by the index.
Worker shortages at meat processing plants along with trucking backlogs mean less meat is getting into stores, and tight supplies are pushing up prices in Maine, and likely will for the rest of the year. At the same time, many Mainers are able to buy some locally sourced meat at prices competitive with or lower than nationally sourced meat that doesn’t have the overhead costs of supermarket chains.
At Weston’s Meat Market in Farmingdale, owner Matt Weston said he has been able to keep his per-pound price at $3.99 for a fresh turkey, the same as last year, while processing 1,400 turkeys in the last six days at his West Gardiner plant for the store and other farmers.
“We’re trying to keep the price as cheap as possible to help consumers,” he said.
The Brewer IGA has been hit more in pricing than product availability, store manager Dale Tozier Jr. said. But on Tuesday, there were slim pickings for turkeys. Regular turkeys are gone, leaving only all natural or organic birds priced at $3 to $4 per pound.
He said meat producers aren’t making as much product, so he does not get all the cuts he wants, and one of his national distributors had to refuse a full load of meat that was past its expiration date.
That gives locally produced meat an advantage. The closer the product is to the buyer, the lower the price can be, said Sean Smith, director of sales and marketing at W.A. Bean, which produces meat and sells it at a store in Bangor. It buys local meat and from large Midwest producers.
Much of the ordering for holiday turkeys, hams and various cuts of beef happens in late July to assure the product reaches grocery and butcher shelves in time for the holidays.
The panic-buying that marked the pandemic last year isn’t happening this year. The trend of buying smaller turkeys, a byproduct of fewer people having large family gatherings last year, has continued this year, with 8- to 12-pound turkeys selling quickly.
W.A. Bean will sell out of those smaller turkeys by tomorrow, Smith said, urging consumers to place their orders for Christmas hams and beef ribs now. People who plan ahead can avoid some of the price hikes that come with holiday demand. Ham and beef prices will escalate next week in the pre-Christmas boom, Smith said.
Ordering ahead of time also assures that consumers can get the holiday meal they want. At Bow Street Market in Freeport, meat and seafood manager Adam Tice has already ordered beef and hams that are always harder to get in later in the year.
“I can’t order standing rib of beef close to Christmas,” he said.