By Jeff Wilson
CHICAGO — Surging turkey prices mean this year's Thanksgiving dinner will cost 0.6 percent more than in 2011, even with cheaper holiday-food staples including stuffing, potatoes and pumpkin pie, a farm group said.
The average cost of feeding 10 people the 12 items typically served during the holiday meal will be $49.48, up from $49.20 last year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. While that's the highest since the survey began in 1986, the inflation-adjusted cost is down from last year, which was the highest since 1990. The U.S. celebrates Thanksgiving this year on Nov. 22.
The Department of Agriculture estimates the cost of all food will increase 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent this year, with an even bigger increase in 2013, after the nation's worst drought since the 1950s damaged crops and forced livestock producers to shrink their herds.
"At just under $5 per person, the cost of this year's meal remains a bargain," Bob Stallman, president of the farm group, said Thursday in an e-mailed statement.
Turkey prices, up 3.1 percent, accounted for 66 cents of the increase in the cost of the meal, according to the survey. The national average price for a 16-pound bird is $22.23 this year, or about $1.39 a pound, excluding grocer promotions or rebates, the Federation said.
"Most Americans will pay about the same as last year at the grocery store for a turkey and all the trimmings," John Anderson, the bureau's deputy chief economist, said in the release. "A slight increase in demand for turkey is responsible for the moderate price increase."
About 304.6 million pounds of frozen whole turkeys were in U.S. warehouses at the end of September, down 9 percent from a year earlier, Department of Agriculture data show. About 184 million young turkeys were processed in the first nine months of the year, up 1.9 percent from the same period a year earlier.
The cost of a 12-ounce package of pre-cooked rolls rose 3 cents, and miscellaneous items including onions, eggs, sugar, flour and butter to prepare the dinner rose 8 cents. A relish made of celery and carrots was unchanged.
The costs for a half-pint of whipping cream fell 13 cents, the biggest of the declines this year. Prices also fell for a 30-ounce can of pumpkin-pie mix, 14 ounces of stuffing mix, 3 pounds of sweet potatoes, a gallon of whole milk, 12 ounces of fresh cranberries, a pound of frozen green peas and two pie shells.
The informal price survey was first conducted in 1986. A total of 155 volunteer shoppers from 35 states participated in this year's project. The menu for the dinner has remained unchanged since 1986 to allow for consistent price comparisons.
Milk futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange have gained 5.3 percent in the past year as high feed costs slowed production. Wheat prices on the Chicago Board of Trade have jumped 37 percent from a year earlier on declining global production.