Thanksgiving Dinner Costs About $50, Calculates AFBB

The American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) 30th annual informal price survey of classic items served on the Thanksgiving Day (November 26) dinner table in the United States indicates the average cost of this year’s feast for 10 persons is $50.11, or just over $5 a serving – a 70¢ increase from last year’s average of $49.41.

The editors of FrozenFoodsBiz.com don’t know where the AFBF surveyors were shopping, but surely it was not at Whole Foods Market or Trader Joe’s, where prices charged for 20 typical components of the holiday feast amounted to $87.91 and $72.28, respectively, according to a Bloomberg Intelligence study. And if Whole Foods shoppers opted for an organic turkey, then the Thanksgiving dinner basket total would come to $107.52.

Getting back to the AFBF’s annual informal price survey, the big-ticket item – a 16-pound frozen turkey – came in at $23.04 this year. That’s roughly $1.44 per pound, an increase of less than 9¢ a pound, or a total of $1.39 per whole turkey, compared to 2014.

“Retail prices seem to have stabilized quite a bit for turkey, which is the centerpiece of the meal in our market basket,” said John Anderson, AFBF’s deputy chief economist. “There were some production disruptions earlier this year due to the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5 outbreak in the Midwest. Turkey production is down, but not dramatically. Our survey shows a modest increase in turkey prices compared to last year. But we’re now starting to see retailers feature turkeys aggressively for the holiday.”

According to USDA retail price reports, featured prices fell sharply just last week and were actually lower than last year. Indeed, the Dillons supermarket chain in Kansas is currently offering frozen turkeys at a bargain 89¢ per pound.

Avian flu in the United States during 2015 has resulted in the death of more than 48 million birds, of which approximately 7.5 million were turkeys. That’s about 3% of the domesticated population. Fortunately for folks who celebrate Thanksgiving by dining on traditional cuisine, the harvesting and processing of the festive fowl began prior to the spread of HPAI H5.

2015-Thanksgiving-Graphic 545

“Frozen turkeys were produced and placed in cold storage in March, before avian influenza hit in late April and May,” said Keith Williams, a spokesman with the Washington, DC-headquartered National Turkey Federation. “The last case of avian influenza was in June. Frozen supplies continued to build throughout that time, because only a few states of the upper Midwest were affected and the remaining large producing states continued to produce daily supplies and add to cold storage.”

Thanksgiving celebrants who prefer to dine on so-called “fresh” turkey, however, will discover that supplies are tight and prices are relatively high.

“Fresh turkey always is more of a challenge to find because 85% of the production in America is of the flash-frozen quality that continues to remain in supply; 15% of the market is of the fresh turkey variety, which is delivered just days before Thanksgiving, and has been and always will be something one needs to order ahead of time,” said Williams.

Trimmings Cost Averages $27.07
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 – in quantities, including leftovers, sufficient to feed a gathering of 10 persons.

Foods showing the largest price increases this year in addition to turkey were pumpkin pie mix, a dozen brown-n-serve rolls, cubed bread stuffing and pie shells. A 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix costs $3.20; a 14-ounce package of stuffing goes for $2.61; and two nine-inch pie shells sells for $2.47.

“Despite concerns earlier this fall about pumpkin production due to wet weather, the supply of canned product will be adequate for this holiday season,” said AFBF’s Anderson.

Items that declined modestly in price were mainly dairy products, including one gallon of whole milk, $3.25; a combined group of miscellaneous items, including coffee and ingredients necessary to prepare the meal (butter, evaporated milk, onions, eggs, sugar and flour), $3.18; a half-pint of whipping cream, $1.94; and 12 ounces of cranberries, $2.29. A one-pound relish tray of carrots and celery (79¢) and one pound of green peas ($1.52) also decreased slightly in price.

The stable average price reported this year by the Farm Bureau for a classic Thanksgiving dinner tracks closely with the US government’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) for food eaten at home. For October, the most recent month for which statistics are available, the home food CPI posted a 0.7% increase compared to a year ago.

A total of 138 volunteer shoppers checked prices at grocery stores in 32 states. Farm Bureau volunteer shoppers were 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.

The average cost of a homemade Thanksgiving dinner has remained at around $49 since 2011. This year’s survey totaled over $50 for the first time.