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Thanksgiving meal cost declines

Price drops for turkey, milk are largest contributors in decrease

Menu items for a classic Thanksgiving dinner—including turkey, stuffing, cranberries, pumpkin pie and all the basic trimmings—dropped 4 percent in price this year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).

AFBF’s 24th 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 $42.91, a $1.70 price decrease from last year’s average of $44.61. This is the largest year-to-year decrease in the cost of a Thanksgiving meal since 2000, when a 4.3 percent decrease was reported.

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. 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.

Declines in the average price of a turkey and gallon of whole milk are the main drivers behind this year’s decrease. The cost of a 16-pound turkey, at $18.65 or roughly $1.16 per pound, reflects a decrease of 3 cents per pound, or a total of 44 cents per turkey compared to 2008. Milk, at $2.86 per gallon, dropped 92 cents and was the largest contributor to the overall decrease in the cost of the 2009 Thanksgiving dinner.

The inventory of whole turkeys in cold storage increased through most of 2009, helping to support a slightly lower average retail turkey price, according to AFBF economist Jim Sartwelle. Meanwhile, milk prices have plummeted over the last year due to the global economic recession driving down domestic and international demand for milk and other dairy products.

In addition to the effects of the economic slowdown, consumers are also benefiting at the grocery store from significantly lower energy prices, which affect processing, packaging, refrigeration and shipping costs for food, said Sartwelle.

“Again this year, the cost per person for this special meal is less than a typical ‘value meal’ at a fast-food outlet,” he said.

Other menu items showing a price decrease this year were: a half-pint of whipping cream, $1.55; a dozen brown-n-serve rolls, $2.08; a 1-pound relish tray of carrots and celery, 72 cents ; and a 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries, $2.41. A combined group of miscellaneous items, including coffee and ingredients necessary to prepare the meal (onions, eggs, sugar, flour, evaporated milk and butter) also dropped in price, to $2.50.

Items that increased slightly (less than 5 percent) in price this year were: a 14-ounce package of cubed bread stuffing, $2.65; two 9-inch pie shells, $2.34; and a 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix, $2.45. Retail prices for highly processed foods such as these, which include costs for transportation and packaging, have been slower to decline compared to minimally processed foods like milk and whole turkeys.

Two items, green peas and sweet potatoes, stayed the same in price: $1.58 for 1 pound of green peas and $3.12 for 3 pounds of sweet potatoes.

The AFBF survey was first conducted in 1986. More than 200 volunteer shoppers from 35 states, including Michigan, participated in this year’s survey.

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