IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Why experts say you need to plan your menu ahead this Thanksgiving

"Holiday food shopping this year will be more challenging than ever," one industry analyst said.
/ Source: TODAY

Thanksgiving may seem far off, but with food and product shortages, higher prices and shipping issues brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the time is actually now to start planning for turkey day.

"It might only be September, but for many, the holidays are already here," said NBC senior business correspondent Stephanie Ruhle. "Experts are urging Americans to plan ahead."

The first thing Ruhle wants you to put on on your to-do list? Getting food for your Thanksgiving feast.

"Holiday food shopping this year will be more challenging than ever," Phil Lempert, food trends analyst and editor of told TODAY Food in an email. "The perfect storm of climate change, especially the wildfires in the West has destroyed some crops which has driven up the cost of soy and corn feeds for animals, which translated to increased costs for the farmer and therefore the shopper."

Lempert said to look for the biggest increases to be in animal-based products: milk, eggs, beef, pork, chicken and, yes, even turkey. "Transportation costs have risen dramatically. According to Tyson, refrigerated transportation is up over 10% and there is a shortage of truck drivers, so getting food to market is challenging," he said.

Due to the pandemic, many food processing facilities are operating well below capacity. Add to that the fact that many supermarkets are reporting that their suppliers can only fill 50-70% of their orders and you have a recipe for holiday disaster.

"What this all means is that prices will continue to rise for the next 16 to 18 months and we will see shortages on supermarket shelves," said Lempert. "When it comes to our favorite Thanksgiving food, smaller fresh and frozen turkeys (those 16 lbs and under) will be in short supply, so clean out your freezer now and do your holiday food shopping early, either in-store and online," he said, reminding shoppers that even Amazon sells whole turkeys.

Ruhle said that if you do get your hands on a bird, expect to pay more for it. "Groceries are up 3% compared to a year ago and turkeys, more than 6%."

Ruhle said it's not too early to start ordering your turkey and cranberries now — and Jake Tavello, vice president of stores at Stew Leonard’s, a Northeast supermarket chain, echoed that sentiment, advising customers to order ahead.

“Stew Leonard’s has ordered enough turkeys in all sizes to feed our customers this Thanksgiving," Tavello told TODAY in an email, saying that his stores sell more than a million pounds of turkey for the holiday. His main advice to customers is, you guessed it, to shop early.

"You can buy your Thanksgiving turkey up to 10 days in advance," he said. "We also suggest stocking up on your pantry staples in the weeks prior to the holiday, and then coming into the store just before the holiday for your fresh bread, produce and pies.”

If you're worried that you'll have to serve pizza for Thanksgiving dinner, the National Turkey Federation is reassuring customers that there will be enough birds to go around. The key to getting what you want, like Ruhle said, is to plan ahead.

“Turkey is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal, and Americans can rest assured there will be enough turkeys available this holiday season," Beth Breeding, vice president of communications and marketing for the National Turkey Federation said in an email.

"If families have a preference for a fresh turkey, a specific size turkey or a particular turkey cut such as a bone-in breast, we recommend planning ahead with your local retailer to ensure you are able to get exactly the holiday turkey you want. Shopping early is always a good plan! The bottom line is that no matter how you’re celebrating Thanksgiving, there is a turkey option for your table.”