Turkeys gobble, but they don’t go cheap: Thanksgiving meal costs skyrocket

Lifestyle | 23 Nov |

Consumers will face “historically high” prices for their Thanksgiving meal ingredients this year, with experts urging them to plan ahead, look for deals and be ready to substitute traditional foods for something cheaper to keep Thanksgiving meal costs reasonable.

The Arizona Farm Bureau’s annual market basket survey of the typical fixings for Thanksgiving estimates that a traditional meal for 10, with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and more, will cost $71.88 this year, a stunning 45% increase from last year’s total bill of $49.62.

That’s more than twice the increase nationally: The American Farm Bureau reports that holiday meals will increase by 20% nationwide, from $53.31 to $64.05 for a meal to serve 10. It’s the first time since 2011 that Arizona prices are expected to be higher than the national average.

“This is a historically high market basket,” said Arizona Farm Bureau outreach director Julie Murphree.


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She said prices are expected to be higher across the board.

“One of the things that surprised me about this year’s market basket that I hadn’t noticed before is that everything was up,” Murphree said. “Normally we have some items that are up and then some that are down.”

Turkey saw the biggest increase, with the price of a 16-pound bird expected to go from $19.40 last year to $32.02 for Arizona shoppers. Murphree said one reason for the higher prices is the avian flu, which has led the loss of 50 million poultry nationwide, including 8 million turkeys, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“There’s been a 2 percent decrease in production for turkeys because of the avian flu,” Murphree said. “What happens, if even just one turkey tests positive for that flu, then the whole flock has to be destroyed.”

Luckily for Alexander Kahn, the president of Moon River Beef, a family-owned cattle and poultry ranch, the avian flu has not hit his Perkinsville farm. But he said he has still had to raise prices to meet rising production costs.

“Our Thanksgiving turkeys have gone up $30, just this year, per bird, which is pretty high,” said Kahn, who noted that some customers have commented on the prices.

But Kahn said he has to ensure his business stays profitable in the face of rising water costs, grain costs and gas prices. “All of that contributes to the fact that we have to raise our prices,” he said.

Experts say some consumers have been switching out turkeys for more affordable proteins like chicken or cuts of beef, something Kahn has seen firsthand.

“A lot of our customers have switched to either chicken or larger cuts of beef such as roasts or briskets, because the price of a traditional turkey has gone up so much,” he said.

But turkey is just one ingredient in a traditional Thanksgiving meal – and just one that is seeing higher prices. The Arizona Farm Bureau estimates that three pounds of sweet potatoes will go from $4.06 last year to $5.09 this year, a pound of frozen green peas will rise from $1.67 to $2.27 and a vegetable tray will go from 70 cents a pound to 83 cents.

Economists blame higher prices for fuel and labor, among other factors driving up prices.

“The biggest thing that has been impacting the vegetable industry is lack of labor, and that’s one of the biggest reasons you’re seeing price increases in vegetables,” said Hitendra Chaturvedi, a professor of supply chain management at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business.

Desserts, like pumpkin pie, are being hit by inflation too. Pumpkin pie mix is expected to rise from $3.86 in 2021 to $5.11 this year, according to the Arizona Farm Bureau. Pie shells and whipping cream are also up this year by 32 percent and 49 percent over last year.

“The more that has to go into the product, the more it’s going to cost,” Murphree said of pies and other desserts.

Chaturvedi agreed, saying anything that includes operating costs will be more costly because of labor shortages. He also added that sugar, flour and eggs have all seen price increases.

Despite the increases, George Frisvold, a University of Arizona professor of agricultural and resource economics, said that Thanksgiving is less pricey than it appears.

“If you do it by dollar cost per meal, Thanksgiving is actually not all that expensive compared to other stuff you buy,” he said.

Still, Chaturvedi said people will likely have to make compromises or go to multiple grocery stores to find the best deals.

Murphree agreed, saying there are several ways to save this Thanksgiving, including planning ahead and shopping around. And she challenged consumers to beat the farm bureau’s estimates, which do not account for sales or coupon shopping.

“Once you stick to those basics, stick to the plan, possibly do substitutes and really take advantage of those in-store discounts and coupons, I absolutely believe you’re going to beat our market basket,” she said.

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