In AFBF's annual informal survey of the price of basic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table, the average cost of this year's feast for 10 is $35.68, a 60-cent price decrease from last year's survey average of $36.28.
"Americans enjoy an abundant, affordable and safe food supply throughout the year. As we celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, it is appropriate to take a moment to recognize that this blessing begins with our farmers and ranchers," said AFBF President Bob Stallman.
The AFBF survey shopping list includes turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray including carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream and beverages of coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10.
The cost of a 16-pound turkey, at $14.23 or roughly 89 cents per pound, reflects a decrease of 8 cents per pound, or a $1.24 decrease in the total average, compared to 2003. This is the largest contributor to the overall decrease in the cost of the 2004 Thanksgiving dinner.
"The decrease in the price of turkey is probably due to an increase in fourth quarter poultry meat production, which was up 3.5 percent from a year earlier," said AFBF Senior Economist Terry Francl. "Our volunteer shoppers are asked not to use prices that require promotional coupons or purchase deals, such as spend $50 and get a free turkey. The fact that our volunteer shoppers still find the average price of turkey below a dollar per pound is an amazing value by any standard."
According to Francl, data available from the Agriculture Department on last year's whole, frozen turkey indicates that four out of five turkeys were sold on a holiday special. Based on those advertised specials, USDA found that the prices paid for whole, frozen turkeys in November 2003 were two-thirds of what consumers paid for the same turkeys during the other 11 months of the year. That means most consumers probably purchase a Thanksgiving turkey for considerably less than the AFBF survey's average.
Other items showing a decrease this year included sweet potatoes - $2.73 for three pounds and a 14-ounce package of cubed stuffing at $2.24. The price of a combined pound of celery and carrots, used for a relish tray, dropped to 57 cents.
Items that increased in price this year were a 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix, $1.76; a package of two nine-inch pie shells, $1.87; a 16-ounce package of frozen green peas, $1.32; a gallon of whole milk, $2.99; a half-pint carton of whipping cream, $1.56; a 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries, $1.88; and a 12-ounce package of brown-and-serve rolls at $1.63.
A combined group of miscellaneous items, including coffee and ingredients necessary to prepare the meal (onions, eggs, sugar, flour, evaporated milk and butter) increased by 21 cents to $2.90.
Francl said throughout the years, Americans have enjoyed very stable food costs.
"The average prices for the AFBF Thanksgiving Day dinner for the last 18 years have increased about 1.3 percent per year, which is well below annual increases of almost 4 percent per year in the overall cost of living for the same period," Francl said. "Based on this year's average meal cost, Americans can enjoy a traditional holiday meal for just $3.57 per person. That's something worthy of thanks."
The AFBF survey was first conducted in 1986 when the average cost of a Thanksgiving meal for a family of 10 was $28.74.
The AFBF annual Thanksgiving Dinner Price Survey is unscientific, but is a gauge of actual price trends across the nation. Bargain shoppers in all areas should be able to purchase individual menu items at prices comparable to the Farm Bureau survey averages. Ready-to-eat Thanksgiving meals for up to 10 people, with all the trimmings, are available at some supermarkets for around $40 and provide another option for busy families.
A total of 109 volunteer shoppers from 30 states participated in this year's survey. Shoppers are asked to identify the best in-store prices, excluding promotional coupons and special deals. Farm Bureau's survey menu has remained unchanged since 1986 to allow for consistent price comparisons.