Rising food prices cut Thanksgiving dinner

By DEE-ANN DURBIN
AP Business Writer

In early November, Hays Culbreth’s mother sent out a survey to a few family members. She said she could only afford to make two sides for their group of 15 this Thanksgiving and asked them each to vote for their favorites.

Culbreth guesses green beans and macaroni and cheese will make the cut, but not his favorite dish – a sweet potato casserole with a brown sugar crust.

“Talk about Thanksgiving being ruined,” joked Culbreth, 27, a financial planner from Knoxville, Tennessee.

Americans are preparing for a pricey Thanksgiving this year, with double-digit increases in the price of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, canned pumpkin and other staples. The US government estimates that food prices will rise 9.5% to 10.5% this year; historically, they have only increased by 2% per year.

Lower production and higher costs for labor, transportation and materials are part of the reason; disease, bad weather and the war in Ukraine also contribute.

“It’s really not a question of scarcity. It’s a tighter supply with very good reasons for that,” said David Anderson, professor and agricultural economist at Texas A&M.

Wholesale turkey prices are at record highs after a tough year for US flocks. A particularly deadly strain of bird flu – first reported in February on an Indiana turkey farm – has wiped out 49 million turkeys and other poultry in 46 states this year, according to the state Centers for Disease Control. -United.

As a result, per capita turkey supply in the United States is at its lowest level since 1986, said Mark Jordan, executive director of Leap Market Analytics, based in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Jordan predicts the wholesale price of an 8- to 16-pound frozen turkey — the type typically bought for Thanksgiving — will hit $1.77 a pound in November, up 28% from the same month last year.

Still, there will be plenty of whole birds for Thanksgiving tables, Jordan said. Companies have moved a higher percentage of birds to the overall turkey market in recent years to take advantage of steady holiday demand.

And not all producers have been affected in the same way. Butterball – which supplies about a third of Thanksgiving turkeys – said bird flu only affected about 1% of its production due to safety measures it put in place after the last big bout of flu in 2015.

But it might be harder for shoppers to find turkey breasts or other cuts, Jordan said. And higher ham prices offer cooks fewer cheap alternatives, he said.

Bird flu also pushed egg prices into record territory, Anderson said. In the second week of November, a dozen Grade A eggs sold for an average of $2.28, more than double the price a year earlier, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Egg prices would have been higher even without the flu, Anderson said, due to the rising cost of cornmeal and soybeans used in chicken feed. Ukraine is normally a major exporter of maize, and the loss of that supply has pushed up world prices.

Add to that rising prices for canned pumpkin – a 30-ounce can is up 17% from last year, according to market researcher Datasembly – and it’s clear that Thanksgiving dessert will also be more expensive. Libby, owned by Nestlé – which produces 85% of the world’s canned pumpkin – said pumpkin harvests were in line with previous years, but had to compensate for rising labor costs, from transport, fuel and energy.

Do you plan to refuel on the sides? It will cost you too. A 16-ounce can of stuffing costs 14% more than last year, Datasemby said. And a 5-pound bag of Russet potatoes averaged $3.26 in the second week of November, up 45.5% from a year ago.

Craig Carlson, CEO of Chicago-based Carlson Produce Consulting, said frost and a wet spring have severely stunted potato growth this year. Producers have also raised prices to offset the higher cost of seed, fertilizer, diesel fuel and machinery. Production costs have gone up 35% for some growers this year, an increase they can’t always recoup, Carlson said.

Higher labor and food costs also make it more expensive to order a prepared meal. Whole Foods is advertising a classic Thanksgiving feast for eight people for $179.99. That’s $40 more than the advertised price last year.

The good news? Not all holiday shopping list items are much more expensive. Cranberries had a good harvest and prices rose less than 5% between late September and early November, said Paul Mitchell, an agricultural economist and professor at the University of Wisconsin. Green beans only cost 2 cents more per pound the second week of November, according to the USDA.

And many grocers are offering discounts on turkeys and other holiday staples in hopes shoppers will spend more freely on other items. Walmart promises turkeys for less than $1 a pound and says ham, potatoes and stuffing will cost the same as last year. Kroger and Lidl have also slashed prices, so shoppers can spend $5 or less per person on a meal for 10. Aldi is bringing prices back to 2019 levels.

But Hays Culbreth isn’t optimistic about his pan. He’s not much of a chef, so he plans to buy some pumpkin pies from the grocery store on his way to his family’s feast.