The star of the Thanksgiving dinner — the turkey — pushed the overall cost of an average family's meal up slightly this year, according to an annual survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Consumers are expected to spend $49.48 for this year's feast, a 28-cent increase compared to last year's average, but still under $5 a person. The 16-pound turkey was the biggest contributor to the price increase; the average bird will cost $1.39 a pound, up 4 cents per pound from last year.
But shoppers may pay less for frozen turkeys, according to the bureau's 155 volunteer shoppers who checked prices at grocery stores in 35 states for this year's survey.
“Turkeys may still be featured in special sales and promotions close to Thanksgiving,” said John Anderson, deputy chief economist for the bureau. “Anyone with the patience to wait until the last minute to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving could be rewarded with an exceptional bargain.”
Steve Cramer, general manager of Whole Foods Market in Oklahoma City, noted that the only traditional Thanksgiving dinner item that increased in price this year was organic turkeys. Instead of raising the price of the store's complete meal package, the price remained the same but this year, it doesn't include bread or dessert. The complete meal costs $129 and feeds 4 to 6 people.
However, customers on a budget can reduce the expense by choosing a basic, frozen turkey, canned items and making the meal from scratch. “Preparing it yourself is always a much cheaper and better option,” Cramer said.
The Farm Bureau's shopping list assumes the consumer is cooking from scratch; the menu has remained unchanged since 1986 to allow for consistent price comparisons. Items include a 16-pound turkey, a dozen rolls, 1-pound relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, cubed stuffing, sweet potatoes, coffee and milk, cranberries, peas and miscellaneous ingredients — enough to feed 10 people.
Adjusted for inflation, the average meal costs less than it did in 1986 when the survey began.
Mike Spradling, president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, said that's because of agriculture producers' increased efficiency. Through genetic engineering and genetic cross breeding, farmers are able to produce more pounds of product on less land, he explains.
“Food is still a tremendous bargain in this country. I think that's important for the consumer to know,” he said.