The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

The Price of Your Thanksgiving Meal

The Price of Your Thanksgiving Meal

In the News

November 28, 2010

Consumers could have paid 1.3% more for their Thanksgiving meal this year as compared to last year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) 25th annual informal price survey of classic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table. A total of 112 volunteer shoppers from 34 states participated in this year’s survey. A full Thanksgiving meal, valued at $43.47 for 2010, consists of turkey, stuffing, cranberries, pumpkin pie and all the basic trimmings. The same meal cost $42.91 in 2009.

Items contributing to this year’s increase in price included whole milk, which increased in price per gallon to $3.24 (up 38 cents), two nine-inch pie shells (up 12 cents to $2.46), ½ pint of whipping cream (up 15 cents to $1.70), three pounds of sweet potatoes (up 7 cents to $3.19), a one-pound relish tray of carrots and celery (up 5 cents to 77 cents) and a dozen brown-n-serve rolls (up 4 cents to $2.12). 

“In terms of percentage, dairy product prices have increased the most since 2009, when milk and whipping cream prices were at their lowest levels in 7 or 8 years – a function of the devastating dairy economy in 2009 fueled by weak global demand,” says John Anderson, an economist with the AFBF. “This year we’re seeing a snap back from a really tough situation, driven by lower production.”

Other items adding to the increase were coffee, onions, eggs, sugar, flour, evaporated milk and butter. In addition, a 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix was up 17 cents to $2.62. The Food Institute attributes part of this rise to the fact that pecan prices are up over 40% – thanks to China's increased demand for this crop.  

Anderson says that modest growth in food prices will probably continue for the rest of the year and into the early months of next year, although it’s too early to predict an escalation later in 2011. The biggest price drive will be the performance of the economy combined with the demand side effect.

Interestingly, according to this study, the average cost of a 16-pound turkey for this year’s feast was predicted to run $17.66, a $.99 decrease from 2009’s average. Numbers were lower, despite the fact that turkey production has been down overall (2% to 242 million birds, according to the USDA) and that birds have been more expensive to produce due to rising feed costs. The AFBF credits this aggressive price decrease on turkeys with special sales and promotions from retailers.

“I really think the explanation for this is on the demand side of the market,” says Anderson. “If you look back at 2009, there was lower production of several commodities and lower prices as a result of demand. Some of that is still at work this year as consumers are still very reluctant to spend money. They are saving more than they used to and, in a bad retail environment, retailers are having to be pretty aggressive in their pricing. This is also consistent with the mixed reports we are seeing from other Thanksgiving price surveys, as some show turkey prices are up, especially at wholesale. Not all retailers are featuring specials on turkey, but many are.”

Other items that decreased in cost include a one pound package of green peas (down 14 cents to $1.44) and a 14-ounce package of cubed bread stuffing (down 1 cent to $2.64). Fresh cranberries sold for the same price as last year, at $2.41 per 12-ounce package. Data from The Food Institute also reported that the price of celery was down 35%; the prices of most fresh and frozen vegetables were down as well.

The AFBF has been tracking Thanksgiving dinner costs since 1986. Back then, a typical feast ran $28.74 – 33% less than today’s dinner. When today’s meal is adjusted for inflation, however, the 1986 meal costs more. In fact, when calculated according to the Consumer Price Index, this year’s average cost of $43.47 equates to just $21.78 in 1986 terms.

As the current down economy continues to affect how consumers shop, it’s no wonder that 45% of Americans are expecting to spend less this year than last on the holidays, says a recent Citi Personal Wealth Management study. But according to the AFBF, this year’s Thanksgiving meal was not an area where consumers necessarily needed to cut corners. Overall, they say, at $4.35 per person, the 2010 traditional Thanksgiving meal was a pretty good deal.

“We’re not talking about just an ordinary meal. A special meal for $4.35 a person is a great bargain. It’s testament to the productivity and efficiency of agriculture in this country that we can provide a safe, wholesome meal for this price,” says Anderson.