The cost of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner has soared, but smart shoppers have options.
It’s been a wild year for rising food prices, thanks to inflation, trucking shortages and supply chain breakdowns. Heading into the most important food holiday of the year, those pressures have recently pushed up some Thanksgiving ingredient prices by double-digits over last year’s costs.
But it’s not all bad. Consumers are actually spending 18% less on turkey this year, while the cost of white potatoes has dropped overall. That’s based on a NielsenIQ scan of actual prices at supermarkets nationwide for the 30 days leading up to Nov. 6. NielsenIQ sources price data directly from the majority of retailers in the U.S.
“We have a lot to be thankful for, but I don’t think anyone is thankful for these higher prices. You just are not getting a break as a consumer. It’s rising prices across the entire store,” says Carman Allison, NielsenIQ’s vice president of sales development.
“It’s a losing game for consumers. Prices are going up faster than incomes. Our spending power is being depleted,” Allison adds. “The supply chain is under attack. We don’t have the volume of product, and we have rising transportation and employment costs.”
Global supply-chain issues continue to wreak havoc on everything from car sales to soybeans, and inflation has surged in many countries around the world. The USDA reported last week that wholesale turkey prices remain at all-time highs, but that isn’t translating overall to what’s priced on shelf. Wholesalers and retailers are eating the cost and continuing to discount in stores.
“Turkey is actually doing ok,” says Allison, who explains that NielsenIQ data shows 32% of all turkeys purchased so far this holiday have been discounted, compared to 23% last year. “People are more price sensitive and are buying their turkey when it’s on sale.”
The average cost of 2021’s Thanksgiving meal is $53.31, according to the American Farm Bureau, up 14% compared to 2020. That’s based on about 200 surveys completed with pricing data from all 50 states and Puerto Rico, with volunteers specifically tasked with finding the cheapest possible prices. Aldi, the discount grocery chain, is touting the fact that it can sell families the goods for a traditional Thanksgiving meal for less than $30 for the second year in a row.
Last month, The New York Times reported that prices this year are “the most expensive” to hit the holiday ever, and a recent NielsenIQ survey found that 68% of shoppers are extremely concerned about rising food prices.
The hiccups created by a post-pandemic economic awakening do require shoppers to be more strategic than ever if they want to pull off a truly cost-efficient holiday meal. That may mean skipping the apple pies after a heatwave in Washington state hurt the crop; apple prices are now up 11%. It may also mean working up favorites from scratch rather than reaching for canned goods like canned cranberries or pumpkin pie filling, which are challenged to find due to global steel supply issues.
Here’s a savvy shopper’s guide to prices for America’s 400th Thanksgiving.
Media reports have prepared customers to expect a massive jump in turkey costs, but NielsenIQ reports that consumers are taking advantage of supermarket discounts. The average price per pound paid in the past month is down double digits compared to last year.
Lovers of apple pie, apple bread, apple butter, apple cider and apple stuffing, beware: fall’s most ubiquitous fruit had the most drastic price hike in the produce section.
• Apples: $2.46 per pound, up 13%
Families may want to skip the canned cranberry sauce this year and pick up fresh cranberries, which are actually cheaper than a year ago. But home cooks attempting to make it fresh will still face price hikes when it comes to sugar and other ingredients.
Stuffing’s favorite ingredients — celery, carrots and onions — are facing price hikes. Avoid brussel sprouts, too. Casserole made with fresh ingredients will be a wallet-saver.
• Celery: $2 per pound, up 7%
• Carrot: $1.69 per pound, up 4%
• Onion: $1.40 per pound, up 8%
• Green Beans: $2.97 per pound, up 0.6%
• Brussel Sprouts: $3.38 per pound, up 3.7%
The cost of cornbread will set you back. Treat yourself to the stuff from the bakery aisle.
• Cornbread: $2.75 per pound, up 11%
• Frozen Cornbread: $2.65 per pound, up 8%
• Bakery Aisle Cornbread: $3.13 per pound, down 5%
Pie prices are on a rollercoaster ride. Mixes are more affordable than last year. Bakery-aisle and frozen will cost a bit more. Shelf-stable had the biggest jump but is still cheapest per pound.
Leftover-sandwich lovers rejoice: The dinner rolls found in supermarkets’ bakery sections face little inflation.
• Dinner Rolls: $3.73 per pound, up 7%
• Bakery Dinner Rolls: $2.95 per pound, flat
You can still find discounts in the spud bin — go for more common varieties over specialty for the best deals.
The spice of the holiday season didn’t avoid a price hike.
• Nutmeg: $4.18 per pound, up 2%
Store-bought alternatives for the holiday table staple that no one wants to make from scratch are up.