Cost of Thanksgiving Meal Reflects Limited Food Price Inflation

Grocery prices only running 1% higher than last year, Purdue economist estimates

Published on: Nov 13, 2013

Consumers can expect only moderate price increases on Thanksgiving staples and less expensive turkeys this holiday season, Purdue Extension agricultural economist Corinne Alexander says.

In the U.S., average annual food price inflation is about 2.5%, but this year grocery food prices are running just 1% higher than 2012 prices.

"There's a lot of good news out there for the consumer. Food price inflation is very low this year," Alexander said in a Purdue interview. She suggests that prices for items most commonly associated with Thanksgiving meals will not all move in the same direction.

"We're expecting the overall Thanksgiving meal to be roughly the same price as last year and, potentially depending on what sort of in-store specials are being offered, you might even spend less this year than you did last year on Thanksgiving," she says.

Grocery prices only running 1% higher than last year, Purdue economist estimates
Grocery prices only running 1% higher than last year, Purdue economist estimates

Grab a turkey discount

Turkey, the main item on many Thanksgiving dinner menus, should cost consumers less this year. The USDA is predicting that wholesale prices for Eastern market whole turkeys will be between $1 and $1.06 per pound in the fourth quarter, compared with $1.06 per pound in 2012.

Alexander says consumers should remember that the way wholesale prices translate to retail prices depends on individual retailers. The actual price paid also will vary depending on whether a shopper chooses a whole turkey or turkey parts; frozen or fresh birds; fresh, precooked or complete turkey meals; brand names; and the value of store coupons and price specials.

Often grocers will offer turkeys at a deep discount to encourage shoppers to purchase their other Thanksgiving items at a particular store, Alexander says.

"Because turkey is a favorite loss leader, that's one of those items where savvy shoppers can look to coupons and store specials to really find the best price possible for their Thanksgiving turkey, and then the rest of the items for their Thanksgiving meal," she says.

Assorted Thanksgiving staples a 'mixed bag'

Prices for other Thanksgiving staples will be a bit of a mixed bag. For example, cranberry prices are expected to be on par with last year. An abundant crop should keep prices from increasing, while strong demand will keep them from decreasing.

Sweet potatoes, another in-demand item, are expected to cost consumers about 10% more than they did in 2012. White potato prices also are up by about 15% this year compared with the record low prices last year.

On average, Americans spend about 10% of their incomes for food. Alexander says that the below average price increases this year could mean there's room in the family budget to add treats to the holiday meal.

Energy use

When it comes to preparing this year's Thanksgiving feasts, Purdue estimates consumers will pay more for energy than they did in 2012. Natural gas prices have increased by about 5% and electricity prices by about 3% since last fall. However, those traveling for a holiday meal will get some relief at the pump. Gasoline prices are down about 8% compared with last year.