Whole turkey supplies are limited during the 2020 Thanksgiving shopping season, according to LEAP Market Analytics.

In a WATT Poultry Chat interview, Mark Jordan, executive director of LEAP Market Analytics, examined turkey prices, what they mean for the producers and the retails and current supply levels. 

Austin Alonzo: What does the turkey market look like at the end of 2020?

Mark Jordan: I know everybody's starting to think about their Thanksgiving plans and is hungry for turkey, hopefully, and all the side delicious sides that go with it. 

Of course, this year is going to go down as one for the ages in terms of what we're looking at in terms of gatherings and a lot of uncertainty around that. Of course, the narrative is that for the most part that we meet in smaller groups, immediate family at most, and to really pare back the gatherings and it has a lot of uncertainty around what that's going to do to the market for turkeys. 

In some ways, though, a lot of what we've seen is really already baked in. Looking at prices, wholesale prices for hens, eight to 16 pound hens, just as a quick gauge of the market - wholesale prices for whole turkeys have been really strong this year, averaging - we're gonna wind up in total of this market up about nearly 20% from 2019 levels. So very strong performance, even a little bit above the five year average. Of course, retailers are paying others. And now the task is, and has been for the last couple of weeks or so, to move these birds through the system under the conditions we've mentioned. 

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The next chart here, I pulled this from AMS, a retail report on turkey featuring. And it shows feature activity up to this point, of course, the most recent data point they have is for this very pivotal week leading into Thanksgiving. 

Of course, there'll be a lot of featuring next week. And I think one of the big takeaways this year is as far as whole turkey producers they've enjoyed those higher prices. And that's really given them a little bit of a buffer or comfort zone from a margin standpoint. The retailers are really the ones going to be squeezed here, paying those higher prices and now trying to sell to consumers and under very difficult circumstances. Feature activity looks like it's pretty strong this week, at least the activity level that AMS was picking up. I was reading a little deeper into the report you're seeing. Of course, you see a lot of very cheap price points. Turkey is being used as a loss leader down 29 to 39 cents a pound has been a pretty common price point. These retailers are going to take a hit, trying to move these birds. And I'm assuming if they don't feel comfortable with what's done this week and next they are going to come out with even more aggressive features ahead of Christmas. 

I wanted to wrap up here taking a step back and thinking about whole birds and then looking at the turkey market in general. And asking the question, how have we gotten here to this point where the whole bird market is so strong on a wholesale basis. 

And this is some data points I've put together, some work I've done, this takes kind of the official count from USDA, their measure of per capita availability and I try and do some finagling behind the scenes with some cold storage information, hen versus tom sold, or things like that to come up with an estimate of whole turkey supplies versus processed turkey supplies. And based on that, whole turkeys supplies, if you hone in on that component, supply levels are extremely tight. Arguably, some of the high prices we've seen this year are not necessarily indicative of very strong wholesale demand but extremely tight supplies.

In fact, if you look at the whole turkey component, suppliers are at their tightest level in almost four decades. So that helps explain, the prices, price levels we're seeing and the kind of unique circumstances we're facing and retailers really, really getting caught in a bind, trying to pay those high prices and then sell to a consuming public that has a lot of uncertainty around the gathering sizes. 

This transcript is edited for length and clarity.