By Nathalie Voit
Grocers looking to shop for Thanksgiving dinner staples this holiday season will be hit with an unwelcome surprise: a shortage of essential ingredients on their list. What were once easy-to-find Thanksgiving items may now be increasingly difficult to obtain thanks to supply-chain and labor shortages that have reduced the amount of available inventory.
According to data from market-research firm IRi, supplies of food and household goods are 4% to 11% lower than average as of Oct. 31. In March 2020, when bare shelves were the norm across retailers and grocery stores, supplies were down 13%, reported The Wall Street Journal.
The news comes despite U.S. retailers and supermarkets ordering items ahead of time in anticipation of the widespread shortages.
According to IRi, the meat and pies categories are the most at risk of being out-of-stock. Meat and pies are the only categories with lower in-stock percentages compared to last year.
Along with turkey, supplies of refrigerated pies have been dwindling over the past month. Frozen pies will be easier to find, the firm noted.
Similarly, turkey was over 60% out of stock by the end of October, lower from exactly one year ago by 30 percentage points. Frozen turkey inventories are also well below average. According to the USDA, inventories of frozen whole turkey are 24% below their three-year average.
The numbers may have less to do with shortages of the actual ingredient than logistical constraints preventing inventory from getting to grocery stores. Labor shortages of essential workers mean there are fewer truck drivers and warehouse associates to ensure smooth delivery of essential items from farms to big-box retailers.
“I don’t like the word ‘shortage’ in this scenario. It’s not like we forgot to start raising turkeys,” said agricultural economist at Michigan State University Trey Malone. “What’s really happening is that you have these disruptions along the supply chain. It’s not because there’s no turkeys, it’s that the turkeys are in the wrong places at the wrong time.”
Turkeys are not the only items dangerously low in stock this year. Cranberry sauce, according to IRi, is also in short supply. The firm reported a 20% decline in the availability of cranberry sauce cans. A representative for Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., a manufacturing giant of cranberries and other related fruit products, revealed that material and transportation bottlenecks have reduced supplies. In addition to cranberry sauce, yams and sweet potatoes are also experiencing supply shortages. The firm notes sweet potato and yam supplies have remained below 2020 levels, or 25% out of stock this year.
Boxed stuffing is also low in stock, despite being more available than last year. Stuffing mixes remain below yearly average trends but will be easier to find this holiday season. Manufacturing giants like Kraft Heinz Co. have ramped up production of essential stuffing mixes in anticipation of high holiday demand.
Finally, aluminum foil, while low in stock, will be easier to find this year. Overall, household items should be slightly easier to find this year than food products, according to IRi.
Consumers are shopping early for items in anticipation of holiday shortages.
“More than ever before, consumers are planning ahead for Thanksgiving by shopping early for key items, driving a 4% sales lift of the entire edible category for the week ending Oct. 31, 2021,” said Dr. Krishnakumar S. Davey, president of client engagement for IRI.