For many Americans, Thanksgiving may look a little different this year, thanks to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
About 1 in 3 Americans are planning to have fewer guests at the meal this year, according to a recent survey commissioned by NCSolutions of over 2,000 adults. That could mean changing up the menu and potentially serving less food.
To find out which retailers are offering the best deals on ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner this year, CNBC Make It shopped the lowest-priced ingredients available on Nov. 6 at Northern New Jersey outposts of five of the most popular national grocery chains: Aldi, Costco, Trader Joe's, Walmart and Whole Foods Market.
The test meal, designed for four people, consists of at least a 10-pound turkey (a good size for dinner, plus lots of leftovers), boxed stuffing mix, mashed potatoes made from scratch, frozen corn, homemade cranberry sauce and refrigerated pre-made crescent rolls, as well as semi-homemade apple pie (baked using pre-made pie crusts) and coffee for dessert. (For the purposes of this price test, pantry staples like flour, sugar, oil, salt and pepper were excluded.)
It's worth noting that these retailers may roll out specials and sales closer to Thanksgiving, so prices may fluctuate over the next few weeks.
Here's how each store ranked, from lowest to highest total cost.
- Total: $27.81
- Price per person: $6.95
Aldi earned the title of cheapest Thanksgiving dinner this year, thanks to several key products being on sale, including Ocean Spray cranberries, locally grown Gala apples and store-brand varieties of chicken broth, crescent rolls and pie crusts.
Aldi had two types of turkey brands available in-store: frozen Shady Brook Farm young turkeys for $0.69 per pound and Butterball turkeys priced at $0.87 per pound. Both brands had turkeys that weighed in well above the 10-pound minimum set for our test, so CNBC Make It found the lightest bird available in-store, which rang in at almost $8.50.
- Total: $32.76
- Price per person: $8.19
Walmart offered turkeys that were one cent cheaper per pound than Aldi's lowest-priced turkeys, but did not have as many products on sale. Walmart had frozen Honeysuckle White young turkeys and Shady Brook Farm young turkeys for $0.68 per pound, while Butterball varieties were $0.98 per pound. Walmart also had the widest selection of brands, sizes and varieties of turkeys available among the five stores compared.
Additionally, customers who sign up for the Ibotta cash-back shopping app can save extra on their Thanksgiving meal ingredients. Now through Thanksgiving, Ibotta has partnered with Walmart to offer 100% cash back on items like turkeys, instant mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce. The promotion works on delivery orders as well as in-store purchases.
- Total: $55.50
- Price per person: $13.88
When it comes to price, Trader Joe's falls in the middle of the pack, but you can get a good bang for your buck. Trader Joe's sells its frozen super sweet cut white corn in a 16-ounce bag, for example, a bigger package than the 12 ounces sold by Aldi and Walmart. And its free-range, organic chicken broth is $1.99 per quart, which is only 77 cents more than Walmart's conventional option.
The biggest cost of a meal from Trader Joe's is the turkey. The chain is offering fresh all-natural, non-antibiotic brined young turkeys (12 to 16 pounds) for $1.99 per pound this year, while their Glatt Kosher birds are selling for $2.99 per pound. If you want a fresh organic turkey, Trader Joe's has birds priced at $3.49 per pound.
Stores nationwide will start stocking turkeys on Friday, Nov. 13.
- Total: $57.50
- Price per person: $14.38
Whole Foods may be more expensive than Aldi or Walmart, but the quality of the cheapest products available is also typically better. The 365 Everyday Value brand's chicken broth and traditional stuffing mix, as well as the Immaculate Baking Co. refrigerated crescent rolls, were all organic.
Whole Foods also had 365 Everyday Value brand frozen, young turkeys for $1.29 per pound (Amazon Prime members got an additional 10% off). Per pound, that's less than Trader Joe's cheapest option. Plus, these birds have no preservatives, no antibiotics, no added hormones and were fed a 100% vegetarian diet.
Starting Nov. 9, Whole Foods is offering fresh turkeys raised without antibiotics and Animal Welfare Certified by Global Animal Partnership starting at $1.99 per pound.
- Total: $79.88
- Price per person: $19.97
It's difficult to compare Costco with the other four retailers since the wholesale club only really offers bulk-sized products. That means everything is about two to three times the quantity needed to feed a family of four. And because Costco isn't a regular grocery store, it doesn't always have the exact ingredients members need.
The Costco CNBC Make It visited did not have frozen corn or pie crusts, so we had to substitute a 6-pound can of Del Monte corn for the 12-ounce bag of frozen corn called for in the test menu. Additionally, we priced out a pre-baked, oversized 12-inch apple pie (rather than one 9 inches in diameter) from Costco's bakery in place of the apples and pie crusts called for in the test menu.
In fact, the smallest quantities that we shopped could probably feed 10 people with leftovers, as opposed to just the four we tested for.
That said, the chain does offer good value. When the price-per-person is bumped up to 10 people, the cost ends up being $7.93 each, just slightly more than Aldi's costs. And the majority of the items found at Costco were name-brand products, including Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix, Del Monte corn, Ocean Spray cranberries, Imagine organic free-range chicken broth and Folgers coffee.
Turkeys arrived at Costco on Friday, Nov. 13 and as in years past, the wholesale club has them priced competitively. Fresh, whole Butterball turkeys sell for $0.99 per pound and organic varieties sell for $2.99, according to prices verified by the Krazy Coupon Lady website.
Here's a look at the cost breakdown for each item across all five stores: