Nothing is sacred, it seems, when it comes to the whims of the global economy.
The American Farm Bureau Federation announced in a statement on Thursday that the cost of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner -- turkey, stuffing, cranberries, pumpkin pie and all the basic trimmings -- will increase about 13% this year, the biggest jump since 1990.
This figure is the result of the group's twenty-sixth annual informal price survey of classic Thanksgiving dinner menu items. The average cost of a 2011 Thanksgiving dinner for 10 will be $49.20, the group projects -- a $5.73 increase from last year's average.
Still, AFBF President Bob Stallman, a Texas rice and cattle farmer, insists that Thanksgiving is both noble and cheap. "The cost of this year's meal remains a bargain," he said, "at just under $5 per person." Praising "the quality and variety of food produced for our dinner tables on America's diverse farms and ranches," Stallman called it "an honor for our farm and ranch families to produce the food from our nation's land for family Thanksgiving celebrations."
Thanksgiving may be a quintessentially American celebration, but the making of the meal is far from insulted from global pricing pressures. A whole turkey, the biggest cost contributor to the feast, showed the largest price increase from 2010: 4% more for a 16-pound bird, or $21.57. According to AFBF senior economist John Anderson, "Turkey prices are higher this year primarily due to strong consumer demand both here in the U.S. and globally."
As for the other items spilling out of the cornucopia, their price increases result from rising commodity costs across the board, which impact the bottom lines of food preparers, grocers, and ultimately, shoppers.
As Anderson explained, "The era of grocers holding the line on retail food cost increases is basically over. Retailers are being more aggressive about passing on higher costs for shipping, processing and storing food to consumers, although turkeys may still be featured in special sales and promotions close to Thanksgiving."
Backing up this assertion, the AFBF produced data showing increases in the prices of everything on their list except miscellaneous ingredients (onions, eggs, sugar, flour, evaporated milk and butter) and a one-pound relish tray (carrots and celery). A gallon of whole milk, for example, went up by 42 cents, or 13%, to $3.66.
"Demand for U.S. dairy products has been strong throughout the year and continues to influence retail prices, as demand for higher-quality food products grows globally," Anderson said.
Overall, though, U.S. consumers don't have much to complain about, according to Anderson. Food costs have been relatively stable, the past year notwithstanding. "The worst of the price inflation may be ending," he told Bloomberg's Jeff Wilson, "and we should see moderation in 2012." But, as Wilson notes, "At a time when global food prices tracked by the United Nations fell 9.1% from a record in February, U.S. consumers are paying record prices." The rising price of energy also increases the cost of eating at home, which was up 6.3% in September from a year earlier.
The Farm Bureau, a nonprofit organization that works to promote agricultural profitability and rural community life, deployed 141 volunteer shoppers from 35 states to carry out this year's survey. The menu has been fixed since the survey's inception in 1986, in order to allow for consistent price comparisons. Designated shoppers are instructed to seek out the best prices without using coupons or special deals.