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What does a Thanksgiving dinner really cost?

Published: Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 3:38 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 3:59 p.m. CDT

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The retail cost of menu items for a classic Thanksgiving dinner including turkey, stuffing, cranberries, pumpkin pie and all the basic trimmings increased less than 1 percent this year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

AFBF’s 27th annual informal price survey of classic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table indicates the average cost of this year’s feast for 10 is $49.48, a 28-cent price increase from last year’s average of $49.20.

“At just under $5 per person, the cost of this year’s meal remains a bargain,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman, a rice and cattle producer from Texas. “Our diverse farm and ranch families are honored to produce the food from our nation’s land for family Thanksgiving celebrations. During this holiday season, I am encouraging farmers and ranchers to reach out to consumers in-person or through social media, to answer questions about the food that they grow or the livestock and poultry they raise.”

The AFBF survey shopping list includes turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and beverages of coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10. There is also plenty for leftovers.

The big ticket item — a 16-pound turkey — came in at $22.23 this year. That was roughly $1.39 per pound, an increase of about 4 cents per pound, or a total of 66 cents per whole turkey, compared to 2011. The whole bird was the biggest contributor to the final total, showing the largest price increase compared to last year.

“Thanksgiving Dinner is a special meal that people look forward to all year,” said John Anderson, AFBF’s deputy chief economist. “Most Americans will pay about the same as last year at the grocery store for a turkey and all the trimmings. A slight increase in demand for turkey is responsible for the moderate price increase our shoppers reported for the bird.”

Savvy shoppers may pay even less for frozen tom turkey compared to AFBF’s 155 volunteer shoppers who checked prices at grocery stores in 35 states.

“Turkeys may still be featured in special sales and promotions close to Thanksgiving,” Anderson said. “Anyone with the patience to wait until the last minute to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving could be rewarded with an exceptional bargain.” 

In addition to the turkey, a combined group of miscellaneous items, including coffee and ingredients necessary to prepare the meal (onions, eggs, sugar, flour, evaporated milk and butter) increased in price to $3.18. A dozen brown-n-serve rolls also increased slightly this year, up 3 cents to $2.33.

Items that showed a price decrease from last year were: A half pint of whipping cream, $1.83, down 13 cents; a 14-ounce package of cubed bread stuffing, $2.77, down 11 cents; three pounds of sweet potatoes, $3.15, down 11 cents; one gallon of whole milk, $3.59, down 7 cents; fresh cranberries, $2.45, down 3 cents; one pound of green peas, $1.66, down 2 cents; a 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix and two nine-inch pie shells, $5.53, down 2 cents.

A one-pound relish tray of carrots and celery remained the same at 76 cents.

Anderson said that despite retail price increases during the last year or so, American consumers have enjoyed relatively stable food costs over the years, particularly when adjusted for inflation.

The slight percentage increase in the national average cost reported this year by Farm Bureau for a classic Thanksgiving dinner tracks closely with the organization’s 2012 quarterly Marketbasket surveys and the government’s Consumer Price Index for food.

Farm Bureau volunteer shoppers are asked to look for the best possible prices, without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or purchase deals, such as spending $50 and receiving a free turkey. Shoppers with an eye for bargains in all areas of the country should be able to purchase individual menu items at prices comparable to the Farm Bureau survey averages. Another option for busy families without a lot of time to cook is ready-to-eat Thanksgiving meals for up to 10 people, with all the trimmings, which are available at many supermarkets and take-out restaurants for around $50 to $75.

The AFBF survey was first conducted in 1986. While Farm Bureau does not make any scientific claims about the data, it is an informal gauge of price trends around the nation. Farm Bureau’s survey menu has remained unchanged since 1986 to allow for consistent price comparisons.

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