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Cost of Thanksgiving dinner still a bargain, farmers say

The cost of today's typical Thanksgiving dinner is more than last year's, but farmers say it's still a bargain.

The average cost of today's feast for 10 people is $44.61, a $2.35 price increase or 6 percent from last year's average of $42.26, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation's 23rd annual price survey of a typical Thanksgiving dinner.

"Throughout the year we're fortunate to enjoy a bounty of foods produced in every state of our great nation," AFBF President Bob Stallman said in a statement. "It's especially appropriate as we gather at the Thanksgiving table to savor not only food and fellowship, but to take a moment to recognize that this blessing begins with our hard-working farm and ranch families."

The big-ticket item, of course, is the turkey itself. The survey found that a 16-pound turkey averages $19.09, or about $1.19 a pound, reflecting an increase of 9 cents per pound, or a total of $1.46 per turkey over last year's bird. It was the largest contributor to the meal's overall price increase.

"Food prices rode the energy price roller coaster up during the first half of 2008, and as the year winds down, energy prices have moderated somewhat but food prices have not come down," said Jim Sartwelle, an AFBF economist.

"Despite that, the components of this classic Thanksgiving dinner cost less compared to 1988 when the effects of inflation are removed," he said. "Even at these slightly higher prices, the cost per person for this special meal remains lower than what Americans pay for most 'value meals' at fast-food outlets."

Costs for other popular Thanksgiving meal items include a 12-ounce package of brown-n-serve rolls at $2.20, a 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries at $2.48, a 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix at $2.34, two 9-inch pie shells at $2.26, a 14-ounce package of cubed bread stuffing at $2.57, a relish tray of carrots and celery at 82 cents, a half-pint of whipping cream at $1.70, a pound of green peas at $1.58, and three pounds of sweet potatoes at $3.12.

Aside from the turkey, increases from last year ranged from 31 cents for the rolls to only 4 cents for the sweet potatoes.

Combining some miscellaneous items such as coffee and meal ingredients such as onions, eggs, sugar, flour, evaporated milk and butter dropped in price 60 cents to $2.69, the survey found. A gallon of whole milk dropped 10 cents to $3.78.

Sartwelle said consumers have seen relatively stable retail prices the past few years, when adjusted for inflation. This year's average meal cost of $44.61 is equivalent to $20.65 in 20-year inflation-adjusted dollars.

A total of 179 volunteer shoppers from 38 states participated in the American Farm Bureau survey, and are asked to find the best possible prices without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or purchase deals. The menu of items has remained the same since the first survey in 1986.

The price compares to $50 to $75 for a ready-to-eat Thanksgiving dinner for 10 available at many supermarkets or take-out restaurants, the Farm Bureau said.