Inflation is gobbling up the price of Thanksgiving dinner

(AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)

I hope you all saved the sixteen cents you saved on the Fourth of July cookout this year. You’ll need it and more to pay for the ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner this year. The price of a traditional Thanksgiving feast is up 14%.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, in its annual survey, confirms what we already know – food prices are up. Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, admits the same though he measured it a bit differently than the Farm Bureau did in order to soften the blow. He’s trying to provide a little cover for the boss, I guess, by cutting the number of dishes in his example of a Thanksgiving meal. Therefore, his meal shows a 5% increase in cost.

This is the 35th year for the Farm Bureau’s survey. It sends volunteers into grocery stores to check holiday meal prices. This is is only the second year where the classic Thanksgiving meal costs more than $50.00. Allowing for a dinner to feed 10 people, with extra food for leftovers, the price is $53.31. Senior economist Veronica Nigh for the bureau briefed reporters online.

The menu includes turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream and coffee and milk. In the spirit of the holiday, the Farm Bureau found at least one thing to be thankful for: its classic dinner costs just $6 per serving. Even the classic dinner doesn’t come with all the frills. The Farm Bureau’s deluxe Thanksgiving meal includes ham, russet potatoes and green beans.

Nigh said pandemic-related supply chain disruptions and uncertainty coupled with a global surge in demand for food, especially meat, are fueling higher prices in 2021.

Nigh said the 16-pound frozen turkey on her organization’s shopping list accounts for 45 percent of the cost. Skip the turkey and dinner would cost 6.6 percent more, nearly in line with the overall 6.2 percent inflation number in the most recent Consumer Price Index. The CPI for food at home has risen 5.4 percent over the past 12 months with all six major grocery store food group indexes increasing.

The deluxe menu with the addition of ham, russet potatoes, and green beans was up 14%, coming in at $68.72. The feast for ten people in 2020 was more affordable at $46.90, less than $5.00 per person for the classic menu. In 2019, the average price was $48.91.

The volunteer shoppers didn’t find bargains on frozen turkey from Oct. 26 through Nov. 8. Discounted prices came after that shopping period.

The biggest ticket item — turkey — is up 24% since last year. But there are a few caveats. Grocery stores started advertising lower prices later than usual this year. For example, if you were shopping for a turkey during the week of Nov. 5-11, you could have paid 18% more than the following week Nov. 12-18, the American Farm Bureau found. That means shoppers can still find more affordable turkeys than the Farm Bureau’s estimate of $23.99 for a 16-pound bird.

“Taking turkey out of the basket of foods reveals a 6.6% price increase compared to last year, which tracks closely with the Consumer Price Index for food and general inflation across the economy,” Nigh said.

Whatever gains farmers may see in revenue this year are diminished by higher prices for energy, fertilizer, animal feed, transportation, and other costs on the farms. Nigh said the farmer’s share of the food dollar is at about 8%. Most commercial turkey farmers raise their turkeys under contract to poultry companies. “They signed their contract as late as this spring. They locked in the price that they were receiving for turkeys way back in the spring,” Nigh said.

Here is the breakdown:

16-pound turkey: $23.99 or approximately $1.50 per pound (up 24%)
Two frozen pie crusts: $2.91 (up 20%)
A 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix: $3.64 (up 7%)
A half pint of whipping cream: $1.78 (up 2%)
One dozen dinner rolls: $3.05 (up 15%)
A 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries: $2.98 (up 11%)
One gallon of whole milk: $3.30 (up 7%)
One pound of frozen peas: $1.54 (up 6%)
Three pounds of sweet potatoes: $3.56 (up 4%)
A 1-pound veggie tray (carrots & celery): 82 cents (up 12%)
Miscellaneous ingredients to prepare the meal: $3.45 (up 12%)
A 14-ounce bag of cubed stuffing mix: $2.29 (down 19%)

Now, let’s look at the meal that Secretary Vilsack used in comparison:

Frozen Turkey Hen (12 lbs.) – $0.88 cents per pound
Sweet Potatoes – $0.83 cents per pound
Russet Potatoes – $0.90 cents per pound
Cranberries – $2.22 per 12 oz. bag
Green beans – $1.64 per pound
Milk (1 gallon) – $3.75 per gallon

So, his menu reflects an increase of 5% but you see how scaled back it is from the other one. No stuffing? Or pie? Not even rolls? That meal wouldn’t fly in my house. It looks like he’s reaching a bit too far to ease the pain at the check-out counter.

Vilsack is a longtime politician so it isn’t surprising he took a political turn in his statement. He made a point to reference last year, pre-Biden, but the truth is that food prices were lower then. His statement wasn’t quite the slam to the previous administration that he thought it was as far as food prices go.

“This holiday season we have so many things to be thankful for, chief among them our farmers and producers who are putting the food on our plates and the ability to spend time with loved ones, which we could not do last year. We know that even small price increases can make a difference for family budgets, and we are taking every step we can to mitigate that. The good news is that the top turkey producers in the country are confident that everyone who wants a bird for their Thanksgiving dinner will be able to get one, and a large one will only cost $1 dollar more than last year,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “That’s why the President has been so focused on creating millions of jobs, getting wages up, and getting tax cuts to working families. But let’s not forget the headlines and reality of Thanksgiving last year: 26 million people didn’t have enough food to eat while others were concerned about losing their homes.”

The important part of the holiday is the gathering of family and friends, of course, but the meal is the centerpiece of the day. Millions of Americans will feel the pinch this year, especially those on limited incomes. Biden’s inflation-inducing policies are not to be dismissed as just business as usual. And, there is certainly no room for this administration to criticize the economic policies of the previous administration which saw essentially full employment and a rise in the standard of living for demographics across the board, pre-pandemic.