Rising food costs are taking away from Thanksgiving dinner

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

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

“You say Thanksgiving is ruined,” joked Culbreth, 27, a financial planner from Knoxville, Tennessee.

Americans are bracing for an expensive Thanksgiving this year with double-digit percentage increases in prices for 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 risen by only 2% per year.

Lower production and higher labor, shipping and item costs are part of the reason; illness, bad weather and the war in Ukraine also contribute.

“It’s really not a shortage. It’s tighter supplies for some pretty good reasons,” said David Anderson, a 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 at a turkey farm in Indiana — has killed 49 million turkeys and other poultry in 46 states this year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control.

As a result, per capita U.S. turkey supplies are at their lowest level since 1986, said Mark Jordan, CEO of Leap Market Analytics in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Jordan predicts the wholesale price of an 8-16 pound frozen turkey — the type typically bought for Thanksgiving — will reach $1.77 a pound in November, up 28 percent from the same month last year. year.

Still, there will be plenty of whole birds for Thanksgiving tables, Jordan said. Over the past few years, companies have been shifting a higher percentage of birds to the entire turkey market to take advantage of steady holiday demand.

And not every manufacturer was equally affected. Butterball, which supplies about a third of its Thanksgiving turkeys, said bird flu has affected only about 1 percent of its production because of safety measures it put in place after the last major flu outbreak in 2015.

But it may be harder for shoppers to find turkey breasts or other cuts, Jordan said. And higher ham prices give chefs 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 previous year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Egg prices would have been higher even without the flu, Anderson said, because of rising prices for corn and soybean meal used to feed chickens. Ukraine is usually a major exporter of corn, and the loss of that supply sent world prices soaring.

Add that to the rising prices of canned pumpkin — a 30-ounce can is up 17% over last year, according to market researcher Datasembly — and it’s clear that Thanksgiving dessert will be more expensive, too. Libby, owned by Nestle — which produces 85% of the world’s canned pumpkin — said the pumpkin crop is in line with previous years, but should offset higher labor, transportation, fuel and energy costs.

Planning to fill in on the side? It will also cost you. A 16-ounce can of filling costs 14 percent more than last year, Datasembi said. And a 5-pound bag of Russet potatoes averaged $3.26 in the second week of November, up 45.5 percent from a year ago.

Craig Carlson, CEO of Chicago-based Carlson Produce Consulting, said the frost and wet spring have seriously slowed potato growth this year. Growers also raised prices to offset higher costs for seeds, fertilizers, diesel and machinery. Manufacturing costs have increased as much as 35 percent for some producers this year, an increase they can’t always offset, Carlson said.

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

The good news? Not every item on holiday shopping lists is significantly more expensive. Cranberries had a good crop and prices rose less than 5 percent between late September and early November, said Paul Mitchell, an agricultural economist and professor at the University of Wisconsin. Green beans cost just 2 cents more per pound during the second week of November, according to the USDA.

And many grocers are cutting back on turkeys and other holiday items in hopes that shoppers will spend more liberally 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 cut prices so shoppers can spend $5 or less per person on food for 10. Aldi is bringing prices back to 2019 levels.

But Hayes Culbreth isn’t optimistic about his casserole. He’s not much of a cook, so he plans to pick up some pumpkin pies from the grocery store on the way to the family holiday.

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