Some Reasons Why Organic Turkeys Cost More

by updated 2012/08/05

This is another old Thanksgiving post that has been getting a lot of traffic this week. I bought two organic Turkeys last week, and this year the price was actually less that it was two years ago when this post was written. The store also had a much larger selection than it did back then. I think both of these observations point to a higher demand for organic turkeys. Consequently more organic producers are growing for the market, making availability and pricing more attractive.

Are organic turkeys worth the extra cost? Within reason, I think the answer is yes, but I have seen specialty, organically raised turkeys for sale online that give me pause. I guess the steep cost is partly the result of overnight shipping of fresh food, but still…. Take a look at this link to see what I mean. This company does sell out every holiday season, so there is a demand for these birds. Even though I am willing to pay more for an organic, free-range turkey, there are limits to our budget, so I choose to look locally for our holiday birds. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks to ethically produced, healthier turkeys is the higher cost. Why do organic turkeys cost so much more than conventionally produced birds?

The biggest reason is probably the amount of space needed to raise turkeys organically vs. conventionally on huge turkey farms. Take a look at the picture of the turkey farm in the middle of my post encouraging people to try organic turkey. Compare that to the picture at the top of this article. If an industrial turkey farm can produce 10 times the number of turkeys per given area of growing space, then they can sell these turkeys at a lower cost per pound. Because hormones are not fed to organic turkeys, they grow slower than conventionally produced birds, requiring more feed per pound of turkey. I read about how one Australian turkey grower successfully made the switch from conventional to free range turkey raising. Farms such as that one can justify an increased cost for their birds, but be careful as not all turkey growers are as ethically responsible with the “free range” label. Unless you know the specifics of the farmer, buying organic can be a safer choice.

A smaller reason for the higher cost of organic turkeys is the demand factor. Supposedly, because only a small percentage of turkeys sold are organic, the economies of scale result in higher shipping and handling costs per bird. Another factor is that because they are still considered a “specialty item” by many groceries, they are priced at a higher markup than the huge freezer display of conventional turkeys.

I would be hesitant to pay the high cost of an online, organic, heritage variety turkey. I think my reluctance is simply that I can not justify the cost to our food budget. If money was not a factor at our Thanksgiving table, I might order one. This year I purchased a local, organic, free range turkey for $2.19 per pound. The store I bought it at had another nationally sold organic, free range, turkey for $1.99 per pound. I chose the local over the national, because I like to purchase local whenever possible and because the largest bird was a local one at just over 14 lbs. I have been able to get 15 or 16 lb organic or 18 to 20 lb free range in past years by ordering ahead of time. If I had needed a larger bird this year, I would have been out of luck at this store.

What I really did not like and what I think probably deters most people from buying an organic turkey, was the difference in price over the “broth injected” Butterballs and the like in the same case. The conventional turkeys were priced between 1.19 and 1.39 per lb. Another store was offering a brand of turkey I had not heard of at 19 cents per pound, (regular price 1.19), if you bought over $50.00 worth of groceries at the same time. A warehouse type grocery in town is advertising frozen turkeys at .89 cents per lb. So I pretty much paid double the price for an organic turkey.

I don’t think a much higher price can be justified for a free range bird, unless it is also organic, or you can verify the farming practices of the specific turkey grower. The USDA only requires that a turkey have access to outside air in order to be labeled free range. This access can sometimes be unbelievably limited.

Although most of the higher price of organic turkeys can be justified by the higher cost of production. Some of the differential, however, is undoubtedly tied to the grocer’s thinking it is a specialty item that they can charge a higher markup on. Obviously if you are going to spend the extra money for an organic turkey, you need to believe you are getting something worth the extra price. In my case, I do. What do you think?

Will Sig

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