The price of Thanksgiving dinner is up from last year, but by how much? That depends on whom you ask and what you plan on serving, but also when you go to the supermarket.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and USDA have both released their annual estimates, but there are some key differences, mainly in the price of turkey.

AFBF says the price of a typical meal, including turkey and 11 other items, has risen 14% in the past year, to $53.31 for 10 people. (Adding ham, frozen green beans and Russet potatoes, the price goes to $68.72.) USDA, which looked at six Thanksgiving “staples,” found an overall increase of 5%.

The gap is likely the result of different methodologies and the timing of the data-gathering: USDA used its Agricultural Marketing Service’s weekly retail reports, based on store advertisements, while AFBF gathered surveys from “volunteer shoppers” that were conducted from Oct. 26 to Nov. 8, before most stores began offering discounts on turkeys.

AFBF Senior Economist Veronica Nigh said turkey price promotions started later this year than they normally do, and noted that groceries have a lot of flexibility in pricing. She advised shoppers to visit different stores to get the best deals.   

USDA and AFBF also looked at different items: AFBF’s survey includes 15 items, including whipping cream and dinner rolls. USDA’s estimates comprise turkey, along with russet and sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberries and milk.

One thing they agree on: AMS’s data shows the price of frozen turkey hens for the week ending Nov. 12 was 88 cents per pound, down 18% from the week before. So, AFBF said Thursday, “consumers who have not yet purchased a turkey should be able to find one at a lower cost than the Farm Bureau average.” 

Demonstrating the fast-moving nature of pricing, that 88-cent-per-pound average was down from $1.07 the week before.

On items common to both sets of estimates, AFBF found cranberries were $2.98 for a 12-ounce bag, while USDA said the price was $2.22. And AFBF found the the average cost of a 16-pound frozen bird was $1.50 per pound, up 24% from a year ago.

AFBF said when turkey is removed from the equation, the overall market basket increased 6.6%, in line with the Consumer Price Index’s latest finding of a 5.4% increase in food prices from a year ago.

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On sweet potatoes, USDA reported a price of 83 cents per pound, up 7 cents from a year ago. AFBF reported the price of a three-pound bag at $3.56, or about $1.19/pound. USDA said Russet potatoes are fetching an average of 90 cents a pound, while AFBF said the price was 59 cents per pound, based on the cost of a five-pound bag. The estimates for green beans also were slightly different: USDA reported $1.64/pound; AFBF, $1.58.

For milk, USDA reported a price of $3.75/gallon. AFBF’s shoppers reported an average of $3.30.

“We know that even small price increases can make a difference for family budgets, and we are taking every step we can to mitigate that,” Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “The good news is that the top turkey producers in the country are confident that everyone who wants a bird for their Thanksgiving dinner will be able to get one, and a large one will only cost $1 more than last year.”

“Several factors contributed to the increase in average cost of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner,” Nigh said. “These include dramatic disruptions to the U.S. economy and supply chains over the last 20 months; inflationary pressure throughout the economy; difficulty in predicting demand during the COVID-19 pandemic and high global demand for food, particularly meat.”

In addition, “the trend of consumers cooking and eating at home more often due to the pandemic led to increased supermarket demand and higher retail food prices in 2020 and 2021, compared to pre-pandemic prices in 2019,” Nigh said.

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