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Big dinner, little money
Cost of this years Thanksgiving feast remains reasonable
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The variety of foods associated with a Thanksgiving feast will not be much more expensive this year than it was last year. - photo by Tom Reed

Menu items for a classic Thanksgiving dinner including turkey and dressing, cranberries, pumpkin pie and vegetables will cost just a bit more this year, but remain affordable.

"It's still a good value," said Darrell Wiley of J&J Foods. "There is not much change in what was paid last year. For example, sweet potatoes are 3 cents higher."

In July, when most people were thinking about grilling out, Wiley was already thinking about turkey day.

"One of our wholesalers came to us in July and said we had an opportunity to lock in a price. They were trying to guarantee their business at this time of year," Wiley said.

The retail price for a frozen turkey at J&J Foods will be the same this year as last year, he said, adding that buying ahead of time was not without risk.

"It's like going to Las Vegas; you're going to pay too much or pay too little," he said.

One place that shoppers are economizing is in brand names. Wiley said his store brand items are now selling better than national brands, which come at a higher price.

"It is definitely happening now. You can walk our shelves after we close on Saturday and look at what's sold out and it is the private labels," he said

A price survey conducted by the American Farm Bureau Federation had a shopping list including turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and beverages of coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10.

Nationally, the survey differed from Wiley's price, which was unchanged. The survey showed the cost of a 16-pound turkey at $19.09, or roughly $1.19 per pound, reflecting an increase of 9 cents per pound, or a total of $1.46 per turkey compared to 2007. This is the largest contributor to the overall increase in the survey cost of the 2008 Thanksgiving dinner.

"Food prices rode the energy price roller coaster up during the first half of 2008, and as the year winds down, energy prices have moderated somewhat but food prices have not come down," said Jim Sartwelle, an American Farm Bureau economist. "Despite that, the components of this classic Thanksgiving dinner cost less compared to 1988 when the effects of inflation are removed. Even at these slightly higher prices, the cost per person for this special meal remains lower than what Americans pay for most ‘value meals' at fast-food outlets."

Other items showing a price increase this year were: a 12-ounce package of brown-and-serve rolls, $2.20; a 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries, $2.46; a 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix, $2.34; two 9-inch pie shells, $2.26; a 14 -ounce package of cubed bread stuffing, $2.57; a relish tray of carrots and celery, 82 cents; a half-pint of whipping cream, $1.70; a pound of green peas, $1.58; and three pounds of sweet potatoes, $3.12.

A combined group of miscellaneous items, including coffee and ingredients necessary to prepare the meal (onions, eggs, sugar, flour, evaporated milk and butter) dropped in price by 60 cents to $2.69. A gallon of whole milk dropped 10 cents to $3.78.

Sartwelle said despite recent retail price increases, American consumers have enjoyed relatively stable food costs over the years, particularly when adjusted for inflation. This year's average cost of $44.61 is equivalent to $20.65 in 20-year inflation-adjusted dollars.

The real dollar cost of the Thanksgiving dinner has declined more than 8 percent since 1988.

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