Thanksgiving dinner still costs less than $50 on average

Source: Twenty20

The average Thanksgiving dinner still costs less than $50 for Americans, but for all the bounty of this annual feast, farmers are getting only a pittance.

The price for a Thanksgiving meal for 10 people hardly budged over the past year, costing an average of $48.91 for 2019, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation's 34th annual survey of Thanksgiving Day dinner prices. That's only a penny more than last year, based on average costs collected by 250 volunteer shoppers who checked the prices at grocery stores in 38 states.

The Bureau's meal includes all the trimmings: turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries and a veggie tray, as well as pumpkin pie with whipped cream and coffee for dessert.

Yet while Thanksgiving is traditionally about giving thanks for good harvests and blessings throughout the year, those actually responsible for the crops consumed see a small share of the profits. Year-round, slightly less than 8 cents of every dollar Americans spend on food goes toward farmers. That means of the average American Thanksgiving feast, farmers only earn about $6.

That's partly because many of the components Americans use in their meals are far from raw ingredients. Many Americans will purchase canned cranberry sauce or jelly, as opposed to buying fresh cranberries and making a homemade version. When that happens, farmers may receive a smaller share of the total food dollars from that sale of canned cranberry sauce because it needs additional cooking and processing, as well as marketing and advertising by the company selling the end product.

"Americans continue to enjoy the most affordable food supply in the world, but most don't realize only 8 cents of every dollar consumers spend on food goes to farmers," John Newton, AFBF chief economist, said in a statement.

Overall, prices for the ingredients needed for the typical Thanksgiving feast have remained relatively stable since last year. One item did see a price cut, though: the turkey. Turkey prices are down 4% from last year, with the average price for a 16-pound bird coming in at $1.30 per pound.

But you could find turkeys for even less: 10 of the 14 major grocery and big box chains surveyed by CNBC Make It are selling birds for less than $1.30 per pound. In fact, North Carolina-headquartered Food Lion has frozen turkeys for 29 cents per pound (with a minimum purchase of $35 and the use of the chain's loyalty card).

While turkey prices dropped, the cost of rolls, sweet potatoes and milk jumped slightly. The Bureau has a full breakdown of each ingredient and the price fluctuations.

"The average cost of this year's Thanksgiving dinner is essentially unchanged from last year, after three years of decline since 2015," Newton says.

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