The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

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

How Much is Your Thanksgiving Dinner?

How Much is Your Thanksgiving Dinner?

In the News

November 23, 2008

Consumers will pay 8.2% more for their Thanksgiving turkey this year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 23rd annual informal price survey of classic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table. A total of 179 volunteer shoppers from 38 states participated in this year’s survey which found that the average cost of a 16-pound turkey for this year’s feast will run $19.09, a $1.46 price increase from 2007’s average of $17.63.

Although turkey boasts a noticeable price increase, other menu items are also on the rise. Rolls, fresh cranberries and pumpkin pie mix are up in cost by 16%, 12% and 10% respectively. A one-pound relish tray consisting of carrots and celery claims the highest price increase, at 24%. The smallest price increase, at 1%, goes to sweet potatoes. And the price of whole milk actually went down by 10 cents, to $3.78 a gallon.

Jim Sartwelle, AFBF economist, says that turkey prices are up due in part to rising feed costs, which make up 70% of the cost of raising a turkey. In terms of menu items like cranberries and sweet potatoes, Sartwelle says that changes in the prices of those items are not far off from the general price increases consumers are seeing for all goods and services across the board, with milk being the exception.

“We had record high dairy prices through much of 2007 and early 2008, so farmers were motivated to ramp up production. With the strengthening dollar in recent months, the slow down on exports, and the resulting surplus in supply, prices for dairy have come back down,” he says.

The AFBF has been tracking Thanksgiving dinner costs since 1986. Back then, a typical feast ran $28.74 – 55% less than today’s dinner. When today’s meal is adjusted for inflation, however, the 1986 meal costs more. Calculated in 20-year inflation-adjusted dollars, this year’s average cost of $44.61 equates to $20.65. In fact, real dollar costs of the Thanksgiving feast have declined more than 8% since 1988.

“As an industry, we’ve had tremendous growth in efficiency. We’re importing some goods, like strawberries, that can now be available to consumers 12 months out of the year. Prices are still going up, but we are doing our job to make food plentiful, affordable and safe for everybody,” says Sartwelle. “Compared to other industries, food prices are rising at a much slower rate.”

Overall, consumers can expect to pay 6% more this year for their Thanksgiving dinner. A typical feast for 10, consisting of turkey, stuffing, cranberries, pumpkin pie and trimmings, cost $42.26 in 2007. This year, those same menu items will run consumers $44.61. The cost per person amounts to $4.46.

“Using the reasonable cost of a Thanksgiving meal as an example, we should be talking to our customers about the ways they can eat both affordably and nutritionally,” he adds.

Sartwelle expects that food inflation will hover at about 2 to 2.5% in 2009, even in light of failing oil prices. That means, he says, consumers are likely to stick with the move to eating out less and eating home more – a trend retailers can capitalize on.

Prices aside, turkey consumption has increased 116 percent since 1970. The preliminary estimate of turkeys raised in the United States in 2008 is 271 million. Last year, the typical American consumed 17.5 pounds of turkey.