For the second year in a row the average cost of the traditional Thanksgiving meal reflected a modest increase, according to Arkansas Farm Bureau’s 34th annual survey of food items typically included in the holiday feast. This year’s meal will cost $57.75 for a family of 10, up $4.82 from last year’s average of $52.93, but still a relative bargain at less than six dollars per person.
Mark Lambert, director of Commodity Activities and Economics for Arkansas Farm Bureau, says the price farmers receive for their crops and livestock have remained relatively flat the past four years resulting in record lows in net farm income. In fact, farmers and ranchers receive only eight cents of every dollar consumers spend on food.
“This is the fifth year in a row of record protein production in the meat sector,” said Lambert. “The cost of protein has increased from last year primarily due to decreased ending stocks and slightly higher feed costs. The inventory of frozen turkey stocks decreased by 15 percent from 2018, while ham inventory is down from record stocks in 2016 with the farm price received for pork remaining low. These factors have led to the increase in retail poultry and pork prices.”
“Relatively speaking the consumer price index for food at home rose one percent meaning food prices are relatively stable, considering global trade concerns,” Lambert added.
The statewide average is based on responses from members of the Arkansas Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee and other volunteers who surveyed food prices at 13 grocery stores and supermarkets across the state. They were asked to report the “best in-store price” of 15 items included in the meal and are allowed to take advantage of advertised specials, excluding discount coupons and purchase requirements.
Arkansas food prices continue to remain more affordable than elsewhere. American Farm Bureau’s national survey revealed an average price of $62.32 or roughly $6.23 per person.
“America consumers continue to benefit from abundant supplies of poultry and pork products which are the centerpiece of most holiday meals,” said Arkansas Farm Bureau president Randy Veach. “We are fortunate to have the most affordable and abundant food supply in the world and, as we do each Thanksgiving, many families and charitable organizations will share the meal with those who are not as fortunate. That is truly reason to give thanks.”
Veach said the fact consumers continue to enjoy the meal for less than $6 a person, on average, is a result of the efficiency of the nation’s food production system.
“Grain prices continue to remain low and our farmers continue to feel the effects of the tariff war with China,” he said. “Flooding in the spring and drought during harvest affected crop production, but despite this, because of research and the latest technological advancements, farmers and ranchers are able to manage their cost of production,” Veach said.
Though unscientific, the survey is intended to be a snapshot of actual prices across Arkansas and the nation. The survey period was Nov. 1 - Nov. 17.
The average cost of a 16-pound young tom turkey was $16.92 or $1.06 per pound. That’s up from 87-cents per pound in 2018. American Farm Bureau’s national survey reported an average of $20.80 or $1.30 per pound for the whole bird. The average price of a four-pound half bone-in ham is $8.25 or $2.06 per pound, up from $1.65 per pound last year. The cost of protein products such as turkey and ham are the major drivers of the cost of the meal.
Other items in the shopping list that reflected price increases are a 3-pound bag of sweet potatoes which cost $3.16 or $1.05 per pound, and a gallon of whole milk which averaged $3.29, up 65 cents from $2.64 last year.
The remaining items surveyed included a package of fresh cranberries, a five-pound bag of russet potatoes, carrots, celery, frozen green peas and green beans, pumpkin pie mix and pie shells, stuffing mix, dinner rolls, and a ½-pint carton of whipping cream.
Arkansas Farm Bureau is the state’s largest agricultural advocacy group, working to improve farm and rural life. With more than 190,000 member families, ArFB represents roughly 1 in 4 Arkansans.