2008-11-27 / Living

Classic Thanksgiving feast to cost more, but cheaper than ‘value meals’

Rosemary Arnholt rarnholt@viewnewspapers.net

LAPEER COUNTY — Menu items this year for a classic Thanksgiving dinner for 10 diners is $44.61, a $2.35 price increase from last year’s average of $42.26, notes analysts with the American Farm Bureau Federation.

That menu would include turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, coffee and milk.

Even at these slightly higher prices, the cost per person for this special meal (just $4.46) remains lower than what Americans pay for most value meals at fast-food outlets,” Jim Sartwelle, an AFBF economist said of their 23rd annual informal price survey.

This year’s average cost is equivalent to $20.65 in 20-year inflation-adjusted dollars. The real dollar cost of the Thanksgiving dinner has declined more than 8 percent since 1988, according to Sartwelle.
While Farm Bureau does not make any statistical claims about the data, it is an informal gauge of price trends around the nation.

A total of 179 volunteer shoppers from 38 states, including Michigan, participated in this year’s survey. Farm Bureau’s survey menu has remained unchanged since 1986 to allow for consistent price comparisons.
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.

The cost of a 16-pound turkey, at $19.09 or roughly $1.19 per pound, reflects an increase of 9 cents per pound, or a total of $1.46 per turkey compared to 2007. This is the largest contributor to the overall increase in the cost of the 2008 Thanksgiving dinner. Fresh cranberries were up 46 cents to $2.20 for a 12-ounce package. Together, the turkey and cranberries accounted for about 80 percent of the increase in the cost of the meal.

Sartwelle said this year’s tight inventory of whole turkeys in cold storage has contributed to the slightly higher average retail turkey price, but says most of the increases for all items on the survey menu are largely due to higher energy prices that have affected processing, packaging, refrigeration and shipping costs for food.

Other survey items showing a price increase this year were: a 12-ounce package of brown-n-serve rolls, $2.20; a 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix, $2.34; two 9-inch pie shells, $2.26; a 14-ounce package of cubed bread stuffing, $2.57; a tray of carrots and celery, 82 cents; a half-pint of whipping cream, $1.70; a pound of green peas, $1.58; and three pounds of sweet potatoes at $3.12.

A combined group of miscellaneous items, including coffee and ingredients necessary to prepare the meal (onions, eggs, sugar, flour, evaporated milk and butter) dropped in price by 60 cents to $2.69. A gallon of whole milk dropped 10 cents to $3.78.

The approximately 6 percent increase in average Thanksgiving dinner cost reflected by the survey tracks closely with the federal government’s Consumer Price Index for Food and Beverage, which increased 5.8 percent from September 2007 to September 2008.

Farm Bureau economists cannot speak on behalf of retailers as to why food prices aren’t dropping in line with falling oil and commodity prices, Sartwelle said in a news release.

But they say retail prices tend to move up faster than they fall, and it could be upwards of a year before consumers notice a difference.

On the other end of the spectrum, prices paid to farmers for commodities have been sliced dramatically over the past few months as crude oil prices have been cut in half, he noted.

Corn fetching $7.87 a bushel in late June/early July now sells for $3.68 a bushel, a 53 percent decrease in price. Soybeans priced at $16.31 a bushel in the summer have dropped 46 percent in price to $8.85 a bushel.
Wheat traded at $9.93 a bushel just four months ago now sells for $5.70 a bushel, down 43 percent. — R.A.

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