Cost Of Thanksgiving Dinner Will Be About The Same As Last Year

November 20, 2016

Preparing Thursday’s Thanksgiving feast will peck away just a little less from the wallet this year.

The cost of the same 15 essential Thanksgiving dinner items like the bird, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie, dropped a combined average of less than 1 percent this year.

A feast using common items should cost about $51.99. That’s down just 50 cents from 2015.

To find the average, Times-Shamrock newspapers surveyed prices, excluding club pricing and coupon prices, provided by area grocery store chains Gerrity’s Supermarkets, Price Chopper Supermarkets and Wegmans Food Markets.

A critical factor skewing the survey — one grocer slashed the price of a 20-pound Butterball turkey by $8 compared with last year. This most dramatic difference tipped the overall average. However, grocery market watchers and supermarket officials say the cost of food has been notably stable.

“This is one holiday meal that is predictable in terms of its menu, and (as) it turns out, its cost,” said Jo Natale, vice president of media relations at Wegmans. “Retail prices for these products have been very consistent over the last few years.”

Packaged food like French fried onion — that buttery upper crust for green bean casserole — cranberry sauce and frozen pie crusts saw the least change, which is typical.

Fresh food like green beans rose 19 percent from $1.95 per pound to $2.32 per pound. Red potatoes, celery and sweet potatoes also went up in price a few cents each. Yellow onion was down 14 cents per pound.

The average price of a Butterball turkey fell by 11 percent, from $24.47 to $21.80, but only because Gerrity’s dropped its price for the brand of bird bringing it more in line with the other supermarkets. Turkey prices at the other stores remain unchanged from last year.

“We just felt we had to be more competitive on the Butterballs,” said Gerrity’s co-owner Joe Fasula. “We feel that there’s a consumer demand there, and we want to be sure we’re giving our customers value.”

Overall stability in food prices explains small variation in the meal’s average cost, said John Stanton, Ph.D., a St. Joseph’s University food marketing professor. Setting low prices to draw customers, sometimes at a loss, also helps.

“Supermarkets have used turkeys for years as a way to get people in the store,” he said, explaining the loss leader, an item sold under cost to get customers through their automatic sliding glass doors, often goes for free to customers who spend a predetermined amount.

Fasula said a Butterball turkey costs him $1.35 per pound. He sells it for 98 cents per pound.

“The dilemma is that’s what everyone does,” Dr. Stanton said, adding that grocery stores have to be extra careful to stay on top of inventory so customers don’t run to a competitor when an item is out of stock or isn’t carried.

“The last thing you want to do is get people into the habit of going to a competitive store,” he said.

The loss leader also raises challenges for independent turkey farmers who sell fresh birds straight from the farm at prices much higher than supermarkets.

“That’s always been an issue we’ve come up against from a marketing standpoint,” said Doug Pallman, a fifth-generation poultry farmer and partner at Pallman Farms in South Abington Township.

“Our clientele that we’re catering after, isn’t going to be the same clientele that’s looking to buy a 49-cents-a-pound frozen bird that they get as a loss leader,” he said. “We take pride in the fact that it is a family farm. Our birds are raised quite differently.”

Turkeys raised in a low-stress environment with natural feed and more space to roam come at a premium, about $60 for a 20-pound bird, he said. That’s a price his target market, customers who prioritize buying local, are willing to pay.

Pallman Farms maintained its $2.99-per-pound price for fresh turkey for the last several years, he said.

“We never admit to saying we have the cheapest product out there,” he said. “That’s not our motto and that’s not what we’re trying to market.”