Turkey Drought? Bacon Crisis? Don’t Believe the Hype

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You’re not going to get stuck eating chicken, ham, or takeout Chinese on Thanksgiving. Despite the calls for panic concerning a turkey shortage, which has conveniently hit the news just in time for Thanksgiving, there are plenty of gobblers to go around.

You’ve probably heard: There’s a supposed shortage of turkeys. But before rushing out to the nearest supermarket—or perhaps to a farm with a cleaver in hand—to guarantee your family table won’t be without turkey on Thanksgiving, let’s rehash a few other recent food crises that were widely reported in the news but that wound up mainly being “shortages” in name only.

A year ago, reports of an “unavoidable bacon shortage,” and even an “aporkalypse,” spread like wildfire in news stories and social media. It was all pretty much baloney. Shoppers now know that bacon didn’t disappear from supermarkets, and anyone who decided to hoard bacon did so out of fear, not necessity. The “story” originated via a European association in the business of promoting pork products, and in reality, the “shortage” was just a slight decrease in pork supplies (and an accompanying slight increase in prices) thanks to an increase in the price of corn—which farmers use to feed pigs.

Similarly, the “chicken wing shortage” or “buffalo wing crisis” was a hot story around the time of the most recent Super Bowl. Someone even stole $65,000 worth of frozen wings, feeding into the idea that times were desperate, what with the rapidly escalating price of chicken wings.

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But there wasn’t a whole lot of substance to the idea that there was a shortage of wings. Anyone who wanted to eat wings before, during, or after the Super Bowl had no trouble finding them available at supermarkets, restaurants, and bars. The wholesale price of wings had increased in early 2013, but that barely nudged the prices paid for wings by consumers.

When droughts during the summer of 2011 caused a shortage of peanuts, prices for shelled peanuts and peanut butter rose a bit in the months that followed, but it’s not like consumers couldn’t buy these products if they wanted them. And better weather and a banner peanut crop the following year essentially ended whatever peanut shortage there had been.

With all of that in mind, let’s look at the current “turkey shortage.” The story first surfaced thanks to a supermarket chain called Big Y. It’s a company in the business of selling turkeys, among other things, so the warning should be taken with a grain of salt.

What’s more, the note from Big Y actually specifies there are all sorts of turkeys that aren’t affected by the “shortage”:

This shortage involves only Butterball brand large fresh turkeys of 16 pounds or more and not frozen or smaller weight fresh Butterballs. In addition, it does not affect any other brands of fresh turkeys. This shortage is from Butterball brand large fresh turkeys only.

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The vast majority of Americans won’t be at all affected by this shortage because they weren’t going to be buying a large Butterball-brand fresh turkey—or any fresh turkey—as one turkey association representative explained to Supermarket News:

“If you look at the industry, 85% of the whole bird turkeys — what we eat at Thanksgiving — is frozen, flash frozen. And it is available in all sizes and in all the brands. Those have been ready, plentiful and stocked in the grocery stores,” said Keith Williams, spokesperson, National Turkey Federation.

“That leaves 15% of the market for fresh turkeys and if you think about it there’s going to be a portion of that 15% that’s going by any one particular company.”

So what’s behind this “shortage”? A statement from Butterball revealed only, “We experienced a decline in weight gains on some of our farms causing a limited availability of large, fresh turkeys.”

Most importantly, this only affects a very small percentage of the turkeys, and perhaps an even smaller percentage of Americans—who will still happily be eating turkey on Thanksgiving.