Thanksgiving celebrations will look different for many Americans this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gatherings are likely to be fewer and farther between, with social distancing and perhaps even remote family get-togethers. One tradition that continues this year is the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual cost survey of classic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table.
Farm Bureau’s 35th annual survey indicates the average cost of this year’s Thanksgiving feast for 10 remains affordable at $46.90 or less than $5.00 per person. This is a $2.01 de-crease from last year’s average of $48.91.
Locally, that same meal can be purchased in Vermilion County for $44.04. The local meal dropped a little less than the national average – $1.01. But that local meal still costs less than the national average – this year it’s 6.1% below the national number.
“The average cost of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner is the lowest since 2010,” said AFBF Chief Economist Dr. John Newton. “Pricing whole turkeys as ‘loss leaders’ to entice shoppers and move product is a strategy we’re seeing retailers use that’s increasingly common the closer we get to the holiday,” he explained.
The centerpiece on most Thanksgiving tables – the turkey – costs less than last year, at $19.39 for a 16-pound bird. That’s roughly $1.21 per pound, down 7% from last year. The survey results show that retail turkey prices are the lowest since 2010. The Vermilion County price dropped 10 cents from last year, to 89 cents per pound, for a total of $14.24 – more than $5.00 under the national price.
The shopping list for Farm Bureau’s informal survey includes turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10 with plenty for leftovers.
Items dropping locally included sweet potatoes (down 7%), a veggie tray of carrots and celery (down 5%), whole milk (down 6%) and whipping cream (down 17%). Items higher in the local survey were pumpkin pie mix with pie shells and frozen peas (both up 8%) and brown and serve rolls (up 20%). Local cranberries were unchanged at $2.49 per 12 oz. package.
After adjusting for inflation, the cost of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner is $18.01, down slightly from last year.
In recognition of changes in Thanksgiving dinner traditions, the Farm Bureau price survey also includes ham, potatoes and frozen green beans. Adding these foods to the classic menu increased the overall cost by $13.21, to $60.11. This updated basket of foods also declined slightly in price (4%) compared to 2019. These additional items were up locally, driving the total comparative price to $59.68 – still below the national average.
Although it’s difficult to predict if panic purchasing will again become a concern due to the pandemic, “turkeys – and other staples of the traditional Thanksgiving meal – are currently in ample supply at grocery stores in most areas of the country,” Newton said.
Farmers’ perseverance in continuing to produce food throughout the pandemic despite the challenges of volatile markets has been recognized by the public, according to recent AFBF public opinion research. Nearly nine in 10 adults (88%) trust farmers, a 4% increase from AFBF’s June 2020 polling. Further, the #StillFarming campaign tells the stories of farmers and ranchers still hard at work during the pandemic – and the challenges they are overcoming to feed America and the world.
This year’s national average cost was calculated using more than 230 surveys completed with pricing data from all 50 states. Farm Bureau volunteer shoppers were encouraged to check prices online using grocery store apps and websites due to the pandemic. They looked for the best possible prices without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or purchase deals.
The AFBF Thanksgiving dinner survey was first conducted in 1986. The informal survey provides a record of comparative holiday meal costs over the years. Farm Bureau’s classic survey menu has remained unchanged since 1986 to allow for consistent price comparisons.