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Published: Thursday, 11/13/2003

Maintaining tradition, prices of holiday turkey likely to be low

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Prices as low as 25 cents a pound on some brands of frozen turkey are expected to be announced next week. Prices as low as 25 cents a pound on some brands of frozen turkey are expected to be announced next week.
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Grocery stores have developed an obsessive compulsion to sell turkeys at far less than wholesale prices at Thanksgiving and they re unlikely to change this year.

“It s an affliction of retailers,” said Ryan Mathews, a Detroit-based grocery industry consultant with FirstMatter, of Westport, Conn. “When demand is highest, they ll cut the price.”

Sautter s 5-Star Market in suburban Toledo will reduce its price on Roundy s frozen turkeys to 48 cents a pound starting Sunday from $1.19 a pound this week, said Bob Cousino, a meat cutter in the Sylvania store.

“We ll be losing a little bit on that,” he said. Sautter s price will be 9 cents a pound less than the lowest monthly wholesale price recorded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture this year.

But Mr. Cousino predicted Sautter s large competitors might offer even lower special prices than usual to lure customers startled by record high beef prices this fall.

Such discounts are likely to be announced next week, and the lowest among them probably will be 25 to 40 cents a pound, said Kevin Roberson, an extension poultry specialist at Michigan State University.

Farmer Jack spokesman Maria F. Ward said, “He s right in the ballpark,” although she declined to disclose the chain s next special, to start in the middle of next week.

Through Tuesday, Farmer Jack has Honeysuckle turkeys at 47 cents a pound, down from the normal 89 cents.

The chain had one of the lowest prices locally in recent years, when it offered Jennie-O Turkeys for 29 cents a pound (with a $25 purchase) in 2001, shortly after it opened its store at Cherry and Bancroft streets near downtown Toledo. More typically, 38 to 39 cents a pound has been the lowest price of the season locally for frozen turkeys.

At the other end of the price spectrum, premium fresh turkeys are up 10 cents a pound from last year at Sautter s, Mr. Cousino said. Birds from Albright Turkey Farm Inc. near Norwalk are $1.99 a pound and Butterball s premium line is $1.49 a pound.

However, grocery stores that offer very low prices on frozen turkeys shouldn t lose as much on them as they have in some years.

Wholesale turkey prices from April to August were 3 to 9 percent lower than during the same period last year, according to Agriculture Department figures. Prices were held down by more frozen turkeys in storage and a slow export market. Mexico, which buys more U.S. turkey than any other country, has struggled economically.

But that doesn t automatically mean grocery stores will advertise deeper price cuts.

“There s no real connection between wholesale prices and what grocery stores charge,” said David Harvey, an Agriculture Department economist.

The National Turkey Federation, an industry trade group, expects 45 million birds to be sold nationwide for Thanksgiving, the same as a year ago.



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