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Thanksgiving dinner costs increase slightly this year
Ohio Correspondent

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A traditional Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, stuffing, cranberries, pumpkin pie and all the trimmings, increased slightly in price this year, but still remains affordable, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

AFBF found the cost of a 16-pound turkey, at $15.11 or roughly 94 cents per pound, reflects an increase of 5 cents per pound, or a total of 88 cents per turkey compared to 2004. This is the largest contributor to the overall increase in the cost of the 2005 Thanksgiving dinner.

Purdue University’s annual holiday food prices report agreed with that assessment. Corinne Alexander, author of the report, said that although turkey production levels were slightly above last year’s levels, wholesale turkey prices are also above last year’s level. Whether the higher wholesale prices will translate into higher retail prices depend on retailer pricing decisions.

“Turkey often is priced as a loss-leader and many stores feature turkeys at below cost or offer special prices for frequent shoppers,” Alexander said.

AFBF Senior Economist Terry Francl said data available from the USDA on last year’s whole, frozen turkey indicates that four out of five turkeys were sold on a holiday special. Based on advertised specials, USDA found that the prices paid for whole, frozen turkeys in November 2004 were two-thirds of what consumers paid for the same turkeys during the other 11 months of the year.

That means many consumers probably bought Thanksgiving turkeys for considerably less than the AFBF survey’s average. In AFBF’s 20th annual informal survey of the price of basic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table, the average cost of this year’s feast for 10 is $36.78, a $1.10 price increase from last year’s survey average of $35.68.

The AFBF survey shopping list includes turkey, 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. Other items showing a slight price increase this year included: a gallon of whole milk, $3.09; a 30-oz. can of pumpkin pie mix, $1.86; a 16-oz. package of frozen green peas, $1.38; a 12-oz. package of cubed stuffing, $2.27; two 9-inch pie shells, $1.89; and a 12-oz. package of brown-n-serve rolls, $1.64. The price of a combined pound of celery and carrots, used for a relish tray, increased to 59 cents.

Items that decreased slightly in price this year were: sweet potatoes, $2.56 for three pounds; fresh cranberries, $1.84 for a 12-oz. package); and a half-pint of whipping cream at $1.51.

A combined group of miscellaneous items, including coffee and ingredients necessary to prepare the meal (onions, eggs, sugar, flour, evaporated milk and butter), increased by 14 cents to $3.04.

“To the extent there was a small increase in the nominal cost of the Thanksgiving dinner, up 3 percent from 2004, most of it can be attributed to higher energy prices which affect processing, packaging, refrigeration and shipping costs,” said Francl.

Purdue’s report agreed: Natural gas prices are 25 percent higher than last autumn, electricity prices are 7 percent higher, and the trip to grandma’s house will be more expensive this year, said Alexander.

“We will be paying about 55 percent more for gasoline to travel this holiday,” she said.

The AFBF survey was first conducted in 1986 when the average cost of a Thanksgiving meal for a family of 10 was $28.74. This year’s actual cost of $36.78 is $19.04 in 1986 inflation-adjusted dollars.

While Farm Bureau does not make any statistical claims about the data, it is a gauge of price trends around the nation. A total of 108 volunteer shoppers from 30 states participated in this year’s survey. Farm Bureau’s survey menu has remained unchanged since 1986 to allow for consistent price comparisons.

This farm news was published in the November 23, 2005 issue of Farm World.