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Cost of Thanksgiving dinner down for third straight year

Dinner cost falls to lowest level since 2010 after 22-cent decline.

November 19, 2018

3 Min Read
Cost of Thanksgiving dinner down for third straight year

The American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) 33rd annual survey of classic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table indicates that the average cost of this year’s feast for 10 people will be $48.90, or less than $5.00 per person. This is a 22-cent decrease from last year’s average of $49.12.

“Since 2015, the average cost of Thanksgiving dinner has declined steadily and is now at the lowest level since 2010,” AFBF chief economist Dr. John Newton said.

The featured item on most Thanksgiving tables – the turkey – costs slightly less than last year, coming in at $21.71 for a 16 lb. bird. That’s roughly $1.36/lb., down 3% from last year. The survey results showed that retail turkey prices are the lowest since 2014.

“Thanks to an ample supply, turkey remains affordable for consumers, which helps keep the overall cost of the dinner reasonably priced as well,” Newton said. 

The shopping list for AFBF’s informal survey includes turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10 with plenty for leftovers.

Foods showing the largest decreases this year, in addition to turkey, were milk, at $2.92/gal.; a 3 lb. bag of sweet potatoes, at $3.39; a 1 lb. bag of green peas, at $1.47; and a dozen rolls, at $2.25.

Several items saw modest price increases this year, including cranberries, pumpkin pie mix and stuffing. A 12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries was $2.65, a 30 oz. can of pumpkin pie mix was $3.33, a 14 oz. package of cubed bread stuffing was $2.87, two 9 in. pie shells came in at $2.47 and a 1 lb. veggie tray was 75 cents. A group of miscellaneous items, including coffee and ingredients necessary to prepare the meal (butter, evaporated milk, onions, eggs, sugar and flour), was also up slightly, to $3.01.

There was no change in price for a half-pint of whipping cream, at $2.08.

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AFBF said the stable average price reported this year for a classic Thanksgiving dinner tracks with the government’s Consumer Price Index for food eaten at home. However, while the most recent CPI report for food consumed at home shows a 0.1% increase over the past year, the AFBF survey shows a decline of less than 1%.

After adjusting for inflation, the cost of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner is $19.37, which AFBF said is the most affordable in more than a decade.

New to the survey this year, in order to capture the diversity in Thanksgiving meals across the U.S., AFBF also checked prices on a 4 lb. bone-in ham, 5 lb. of Russet potatoes and 1 lb. of frozen green beans.

“Adding these foods to the classic Thanksgiving menu increased the overall cost slightly to $61.72, or about $6 per person,” Newton said.

A total of 166 volunteer shoppers checked prices at grocery stores in 37 states for this year’s survey. AFBF 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.

“Shoppers with an eye for bargains in all areas of the country should be able to purchase individual menu items at prices comparable to the Farm Bureau survey averages,” AFBF said.

AFBF also surveyed the price of a traditional Thanksgiving meal available from popular food delivery services, which revealed that the convenience of food delivery does have a larger price tag. A 16 lb. turkey was nearly 50% more expensive -- at nearly $2/lb. when purchased from a food delivery service. Nearly every individual item was more expensive compared to the AFBF average, and the total cost of the dinner was about 60% higher, at roughly $8 per person.

The AFBF Thanksgiving dinner survey was first conducted in 1986. While AFBF does not make any scientific claims about the data, it is an informal gauge of price trends around the nation. Its survey menu has remained unchanged since 1986 to allow for consistent price comparisons.

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