If you've been noticing emptier shelves when shopping for Thanksgiving, you're not alone. But you won't have to cancel Thanksgiving.
In the week ending Nov. 7, retailers were running lower on stock of essential Thanksgiving items compared to the same time last year, according to IRI, a market research firm that tracks U.S. retail sales.
During that first week of November, whole bird frozen, fixed-weight turkeys were in stock at a rate of 64% on average across national retailers, IRI found. This time last year, that figure was around 86%. IRI data didn't include seasonal fresh turkey. Last week, many Americans who were buying turkey early were buying frozen birds.
Availability of packaged pie was roughly 68% that week, compared to 78% in 2020. Liquid gravy, with an in-stock rate of 73%, is down about 12 percentage points compared to last year. Cranberry sauce, with 79% availability, is down from 89% in that same period.
IRI uses point-of-sales data and e-commerce transactions to track weekly store stock rates. Retailers typically like to have around a 95% in-stock rate overall, noted Krishnakumar Davey, president of IRI's strategic analytics practice. This year, stores aren't anywhere close to that.
A number of factors are contributing to Thanksgiving staples disappearing from store shelves — including supply chain ruptures and an unexpected spike in demand.
But if you haven't done your shopping yet, don't panic. You may spend more than you'd like and have to make some substitutions.
Supply chains woes and early shoppers
Manufacturers and grocers say supply chain disruptions and high demand, both throughout the year and ahead of the holiday, have contributed to barer shelves.
Ocean Spray, a farmer co-operative that makes cranberry sauce and sells bagged cranberries, said that "consumers may experience some availability issues at times on a variety of cranberry products," because of supply chain issues. The co-op noted that it doesn't expect "significant impacts" on the availability of its products.
And SpartanNash, a food distributor that also owns grocery stores, has been having a hard time stocking a number of Thanksgiving items, said CEO Tony Sarsam. "There's probably ... a half a dozen classic holiday items that'll be tougher to find this year," he noted, including turkey, pie, frozen pie shells, liquid gravy and cranberry sauce.
Sarsam has had problems with other ingredients, including cream cheese, which is popular among home bakers and shows up in a lot of Thanksgiving recipes, he noted, like whipped cream and butterscotch chips.
Flavored chips, such as butterscotch and peanut butter, have been in high demand and have run into supply chain disruptions this year, according to Allison Kleinfelter, a Hershey spokesperson. "There may be some places where shelves run low or run out during the holiday baking season," she said.
Kleinfelter noted that "the production of our chocolate chips (milk, dark and semi-sweet) is strong and tracking with consumer demand."
Cream cheese is another item that has been harder to find ahead of the holiday.
Kraft Heinz has seen "unprecedented demand for Philadelphia Cream Cheese in the past year," said Jenna Thornton, a spokesperson for the company. "We expect to see that trend hold over the holidays and plan to ship roughly 30% more Philadelphia product in November and December," she added.
One thing you should be able to find without a problem: Stuffing. IRI data shows that in-stock rates for stuffing mixes were at 92% in the first week of November, up from 90% in the same period last year.