Thanksgiving shopping may look different for Alachua County residents

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The holiday season is one of the busiest times for grocery stores in Alachua County. However, supply chain delays plaguing the world economy mean that shoppers everywhere may now have a harder time finding their ideal turkey for a low price.

Across the country, turkey prices are up. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there has been a 22% increase in the price of Grade A 8- to 16-pound frozen turkeys since this time last year. This means shoppers will have to pay a higher price for a smaller bird.

At the family owned Ward’s Supermarket on Northwest 23rd Avenue in Gainesville, poultry manager Bryan Ward said he has already seen this issue take place first hand.

“There is definitely going to be a price of increase from last year,” Ward said. “The sizing is what sounds like is going to be very difficult this year.”

Aside from birds, he said, the store is seeing less stock of holiday favorites on the shelves.

“Getting certain seasonings and the bottles to put them in is going to be an issue,” Ward said. “You cannot hardly find any pie shells at this time.”

Owner Danielle Ward, the sister of the poultry manager, also said the store lacks stuffing and gravy mix.

Susan White, a Gainesville resident, is among those shoppers who have noticed a lack of products on the shelves.

“I warned my daughter a month ago,” White said. “So we already have a turkey.”

She said she is prepared to look for certain food substitutes until the shortage subsides.

“I think we really need to get used to shortages,” White said. “It all figures into how much we pay people to work in the facilities that process food.”

According to the National Grocers Association in Washington, a lack of labor in the service and trucking industries have been some of the main causes for supply chain issues.

Maria Brous, the Florida director of communications for Publix, wrote in a statement that its stores are dealing with shortages on a week-to-week basis.

Brous wrote, however, that Publix is trying its best to be well stocked.

“In terms of the holiday season, at Publix, we place our orders for holiday items well in advance of the season,” she wrote.

Local food banks are also struggling to receive donations for those in need this holiday season.

Leza Mueller, communication and development director of the Bread of the Mighty Food Bank in Gainesville, said price increases and supply chain disruption have impacted their drive.

“We are seeing a reduction in our donations both in numbers and in funds,” Mueller said.

She also said the Bread of the Mighty continues to urge the community to help those less fortunate by donating time, money or food.

“Our drivers are still out five days a week grabbing whatever our supermarkets are donating,” Mueller said.

Jason Scheffler, the research assistant professor for meat science at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said wildfires out west are another factor contributing to less stock getting to local grocery stores.

“If I don’t have birds in California, they have to come from somewhere else,” Scheffler said of supermarket companies on the West Coast. “This means that birds from somewhere out east are then going to California, and that reduces the supply on the East Coast and in Florida.”

The professor also said there’s another factor affecting stores like Publix and Ward’s.

“Last year, people had small gatherings with smaller birds due to the pandemic,” he said. “With all of these small gatherings, they cleared out all of the smaller birds.”

Scheffler said while there may be an ample amount of large turkeys, the industry is grappling with what consumers are wanting this year.

“Pre-COVID, the industry had a pretty good idea of what the distribution of birds they needed to provide every year,” he said. “This last couple of years have been such a disruption to the industry that it is difficult to predict.”

With suppliers unsure of what kinds of birds to produce, the grocers association wrote that shoppers should start looking now for their ideal meats and sides.

“Shopping early for the holidays is a wise strategy, especially under current conditions,” the association wrote. “There’s plenty of food in the supply chain, but certain items may be harder to get at certain times.”

Brous also had similar advice for Thanksgiving dinner shoppers.

“The earlier you shop, the more selection you have in terms of brand and greater selection availability,” she wrote.

Scheffler said shoppers may also have an easier time if they are more flexible with their plans.

“There is nothing that says you can’t get a turkey breast, have a prime rib alongside of it and start a new tradition,” he said.

About Kendall Brandt

Kendall Brandt is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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