In early November, Hays Culbreth’s mother sent a survey to several family members. She said she could only afford to create two pages for their group of 15 on Thanksgiving and asked everyone to vote for their favorites.
Culbreth supposes green beans, macaroni and cheese would be adequate, but his favorite sweet potato casserole with a brown sugar crust would not.
“Talking about ruining Thanksgiving,” joked Culbreth, 27, a financial planner from Knoxville, Tennessee.
Americans are gearing up for an expensive Thanksgiving this year, with double-digit percentage increases in prices for turkey, potatoes, stuffing, canned pumpkin and other staples. The US government estimates that food prices will increase by 9.5% to 10.5% this year; they have historically grown only 2% per year.
Lower production and higher labor, transportation and goods costs are one reason; disease, stormy weather, and the war in Ukraine also contributed.
“It’s not really a scarcity issue. It’s more of a limited supply for some pretty good reasons,” said David Anderson, a professor and agricultural economist at Texas A&M.
Wholesale turkey prices hit an all-time high after a tough year for US herds. A particularly deadly strain of bird flu – first reported in February at an Indiana turkey farm – has wiped out 49 million turkeys and other poultry in 46 states this year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control.
As a result, US turkey supplies per capita are at their lowest since 1986, said Mark Jordan, executive director of Leap Market Analytics, based in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Jordan predicts that the wholesale price of an 8-16 pound frozen turkey – the type usually bought for Thanksgiving – will hit $1.77 a pound in November, up 28% from the same month last year.
Still, there will be plenty of whole birds on the Thanksgiving tables, Jordan said. Companies have been shifting a larger percentage of birds to the overall turkey market for several years to take advantage of the steady demand for the holidays.
And not every manufacturer has been affected equally. Butterball – which supplies about a third of its Thanksgiving turkeys – said avian flu only affected about 1% of its production due to safety measures put in place after the last major flu att*ck in 2015.
But it may be harder for buyers to find turkey breast or other cuts, Jordan said. And higher ham prices give cooks less cheap alternatives, he said.
Bird flu has also driven record egg prices, Anderson said. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a dozen Grade A eggs sold for an average of $2.28 in the second week of November, more than double the price a year earlier.
Egg prices would be higher even without the flu, Anderson said, due to the rising cost of corn and soybean meal used to feed chickens. Ukraine is usually a major corn exporter, and the loss of this supply has caused world prices to skyrocket.
More expensive pumpkins
Add to that the rising prices of canned pumpkin – a 30-ounce can is 17% higher than last year, according to market researcher Datasembly – and it’s clear that Thanksgiving dessert will be more expensive too. Owned by Nestle, Libby, which produces 85% of the world’s canned pumpkin, said pumpkin harvest was in line with previous years but had to offset higher labor, transport, fuel and energy costs.
Are you planning to refuel on the sides? It will cost you too. A 16-ounce box of stuffing costs 14% more than last year, Datasemby said. And a 5-pound bag of Russet potatoes averaged $3.26 in the second week of November, up 45.5% from a year ago.
Craig Carlson, CEO of Chicago-based Carlson Produce Consulting, said the frost and wet spring had severely stunted potato growth this year. Producers have also raised prices to compensate for higher costs for seeds, fertilisers, diesel and machinery. Production costs have risen as much as 35% this year for some growers, an increase they may not always recover, Carlson said.
Higher labor and food costs also make ordering a ready-made meal more expensive. Whole Foods is advertising a classic Thanksgiving feast for eight for $179.99. That’s $40 more than the advertised price last year.
A good year for eating out
While eating out is usually more expensive than eating at home, going to a restaurant can becompared to high prices in grocery stores.
Prices in restaurants are also increased, but they have grown more slowly. The cost of food at restaurants and other retailers increased by 5.8% compared to food from grocery stores or supermarkets, which increased by almost 10% from November 2021 to August 2022, Wells Fargo analysts noted in a recent report report.
Thanksgiving-related groceries – including eggs, flour and fruits and vegetables – bought in stores are even more expensive, having increased by 14.9% during this time.
Good news? Not every item on your Christmas shopping list is significantly more expensive. Cranberries had a good harvest, with prices rising less than 5% between late September and early November, said Paul Mitchell, an agricultural economist and professor at the University of Wisconsin. Green beans cost just 2 cents more per pound in the second week of November, according to the USDA.
And manyand other holiday staples in the hope that shoppers will spend more on other items. Walmart is promising turkeys for less than $1 a pound and says ham, potatoes and stuffing will cost the same as last year. Kroger and Lidl have also lowered prices, so shoppers can spend $5 or less per person on a meal for 10 people. Aldi lowers prices to 2019 levels.
But Hays Culbreth is not optimistic about his casserole. He’s not a good chef, so he plans to buy some pumpkin pie at the grocery store on his way to a family feast.
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