Americans on average will be paying about the same for a Thanksgiving Day dinner in 2019 as they have last year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation 34th annual survey of the holiday’s dinner table items.
AFBF pegged the average cost of a classic Thanksgiving turkey dinner for 10 at $48.91, or less than $5 per person, compared with the 2018 average cost of $48.90.
For the 2019 AFBF survey, 250-plus volunteer shoppers checked prices at grocery stores in 38 states. Participating shoppers sought the best possible prices without using special promotional coupons or purchase deals, AFBF said. On the Thanksgiving shopping list to feed 10 people — with leftovers — were turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk.
“The average cost of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner is essentially unchanged from last year, after three years of decline since 2015,” AFBF Chief Economist John Newton said in a statement.
This year, the price of the Thanksgiving turkey came in lower, with a 16-lb. bird costing an average of $20.80, down 91 cents from $21.71 in 2018. By the pound, the turkey cost was $1.30, a 4% decrease year over year. AFBF noted that the survey results show retail turkey prices at their lowest since 2010.
Of the 12 items on the Thanksgiving shopping list, only three — including the turkey — had average price declines from a year ago: 14-oz. cubed stuffing (-19 cents to $2.68) and 30-oz. pumpkin pie mix (-1 cent to $3.32). A half-pint of whipping cream stayed the same at $2.08.
Thanksgiving meal items showing price increases included 3 lbs. of sweet potatoes (+36 cents to $3.75), 12 dinner rolls (+25 cents to $2.50), miscellaneous ingredients (+21 cents to $3.22), one gallon of whole milk (+18 cents to $3.10), two pie shells (+5 cents to $2.52), a 1-pound veggie tray of carrots and celery (+4 cents to 79 cents), a pound of green peas (+2 cents to $1.49) and 12 oz. of fresh cranberries (+1 cent to $2.66).
Adjusted for inflation, the cost of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner was $19.13, down slightly from last year, AFBF said.
Ninety percent of Americans celebrate Thanksgiving with a special meal, and 95% serve turkey as an entrée, according to AFBF’s survey. About half serve both turkey and ham. For the expanded Thanksgiving menu — including the classic turkey dinner plus a 4-lb. ham, 5 lbs. of russet potatoes and a pound of green beans — the cost climbed to $62.32, up 60 cents from 2018.
AFBF pointed out that, despite the rising popularity of prepared foods, 92% of Americans celebrate Thanksgiving at their home or family member’s home, and most cook their entire meal at home.
Hard-discount grocer Aldi reported that a Thanksgiving turkey dinner for 10 with the AFBF menu items purchased at its stores cost an average of $32.02 (as of Nov. 1), more than $16 less than the national average.
“Aldi has everything our shoppers need to host the perfect Thanksgiving meal, without breaking the bank," Scott Patton, vice president of corporate buying at Aldi U.S., said in a statement. "The main ingredients for a Thanksgiving meal cost $32.02 at Aldi, far less than the national average at other grocery stores. From the star of the table — the Thanksgiving turkey — to the appetizers, sides, desserts, beverages and even decor, we're proud to offer shoppers outstanding quality food and goods at simply unbeatable prices."
Earlier this month, a CNBC comparison shopping study in northern New Jersey found that Aldi had the lowest cost of five retailers visited for a Thanksgiving meal serving eight people. The 17-item shopping list included a 12-lb. turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, cranberry sauce, crescent rolls, apple pie and coffee.
Aldi led with a total purchase of $34.44, followed by Walmart at $40.22. Yet Aldi and Walmart were the only stores where the CNBC shopper was able to buy all 17 items, compared with 13 out of 17 at Costco (for a total of $49.00), 11 out of 17 at Trader Joe’s ($49.29) and six out of 17 at Whole Foods Market ($48.74).
Looking at actual purchases from Thanksgiving 2018, Catalina Marketing reported Friday that the two highest-selling grocery categories nationwide in the week leading up to the holiday were canned cranberries (+1,600% versus an average week) and stuffing mixes (+1,500%).
Regions of the country also exhibited certain Thanksgiving meal preferences, Catalina found. For example, in the Northeast and Midwest, people are more likely opt for traditional Thanksgiving fare, with frozen poultry purchases up 315%, whereas in the West frozen poultry sales fell 7% and refrigerated meat substitutes surged 43%.
Baking ingredients accounted for 15 of the top 20 sales gains by category in Thanksgiving 2018, including refrigerated toppings (+481%), fruit glazes (+541%), canned pie fillings (+715%) and frozen pie shells (+779%), according to Catalina.
And data from Nielsen indicate that turkey is encountering more competition for the fresh meat platter on Thanksgiving Day.
From the holiday sales periods for Thanksgiving 2014 (four weeks ended Nov. 29) to Thanksgiving 2018 (four weeks ended Nov. 24), dollar share of fresh meat for beef steaks rose from 12.7% to 14.7%, while dollar sales grew 13.4%, Nielsen said. Similarly, dollar share of total fresh meat for beef roasts edged up from 7.2% in Thanksgiving 2014 to 7.9% in Thanksgiving 2018, with dollar sales climbing 6.9%. Meanwhile, fresh meat dollar share for whole turkey dipped from 10.8% in Thanksgiving 2014 to 9.7% in Thanksgiving 2018, as dollar sales fell 11.9%.