A national epidemic of avian flu, commonly called bird flu, has turkey distributors unable to guarantee quantities or price to customers. While large retailers say they should be able to meet the holiday demand, the shortage is impacting smaller local stores — particularly those that offer fresh turkeys.
According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, avian flu occurs naturally among wild aquatic birds and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species. Wild aquatic birds can be infected with the virus without getting sick – but the illness is very contagious among birds and can sicken and even kill certain domesticated bird species including chickens, ducks and turkeys.
A sign on his counter states, “Due to the largest ever outbreak of avian influenza in the United States, we will not be offering turkeys this year. Over 7 million birds have been euthanized so far. We always strive to provide the best selection and value for you and we are concerned that we will be unable to purchase a sufficient quantity of birds to meet our needs.
“We want to give you as much notice as possible. We value you as a customer and we are honored that you serve our products at your table. Thank you for your understanding and we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.”
Rotriga said he has learned that his turkey supplier is unable to guarantee sizes to be delivered because of the shortage.
“It is my understanding that turkey prices will be higher by 30 cents or more per pound.” he said. “I feel it is better that we do not get in the middle of this. We sell 300-400 fresh turkeys each Thanksgiving season. We value our customers too much and we do not like not having control.”
Rotriga said the problem surfaced last year when he did not get all the sizes ordered and the problem seems to be greater this year.
“I don’t want a customer coming in to pick up a 16-pound turkey when they ordered a 22-pound one,” he said.
The turkey shortage is also affecting business at Valley Cheese in Wheeling’s Lower Market House.
Owner Janet Richardson placed a sign out warning her customers that “due to the national turkey shortage, please be aware that there may be a lack of availability of deli turkey.”
Richardson, who gets her turkey from Troyer Cheese in Millersburg, Ohio, said that since June, she has received smaller amounts than she ordered.
“Most recently, I ordered six cases and I only received two,” she said. “My price to the customer has been $7.99 per pound but I have no idea what the new cost will be.”
A Troyer Cheese spokeswoman said the company buys turkey from different vendors across the country and they do not always get the quantities they want.
“When vendors short us, we have to short our customers,” she said.
Larger food retailers in the area are more optimistic.
Richard L. Riesbeck, president of Riesbeck Food Markets Inc., said Riesbeck’s typically pre-orders Thanksgiving turkeys each spring.
“For the 2015 Thanksgiving holiday, our suppliers have assured us that our orders will be fulfilled,” he said. “Of course, there is always a possibility that the turkey supply schedule for November retail distribution may reflect a shortage, but we are highly confident that our stores will have normal quantities of turkeys this year. It is possible that process turkey products may be affected more than whole turkeys.”
Kroger spokeswoman Jennifer Jarrell said, “We were able to confirm our supply early so we will have the same number of turkeys as last year; however, customers may notice fewer large birds. Some people may want to supplement or substitute turkey with another variety of meat. It is too soon to speculate on price.”