C.J. Lawrence Weekly – Thanksgiving Dinner Costs are Down. Pass the Turkey!

This week, millions will partake in the time-honored American tradition of the Thanksgiving feast.  The origins of the celebration date back to the earliest settlers of the “new continent”, who upon forming the Plymouth Colony, suffered the perils of a harsh winter.  With the help of the Wampanoag tribe, the surviving Pilgrims learned to cultivate the land and hunt for game, and in the fall of 1621 celebrated the bounties of their new homeland.  Only two accounts from the original celebration exist.  Both suggest that, among other items, the original Thanksgiving menu included venison, ham, fowl, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, and squash.  Mentions of wild turkeys exist, but the famed bird did not become the staple of the traditional American feast until Abraham Lincoln named Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863.

Happy Thanksgiving from C.J. Lawrence

Today, the turkey, served with all the trimmings, is considered the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving celebration.  The National Turkey Federation expects that Americans will spend $968 million on the favored fowl in 2019, consuming 46 million unlucky birds.  The good news for consumers is that the price of turkey is down 4.2% from last year’s level.  In fact, the entire cost of the traditional Thanksgiving meal is on par with last year’s cost and is down from 2016 and 2015 levels, according to the American Farm Bureau.  The organization’s 34th release of its Thanksgiving Dinner Cost Index measures a consistent basket of items for a Thanksgiving dinner for ten.  This year’s meal comes in at $48.91, roughly equal to last year’s $48.90.  The 2018 result was down $0.22 from the prior year’s survey.  After adjusting for inflation, the cost of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner is $19.13, the lowest level in more than a decade. 

Thanksgiving Dinner Cost Index | Source: American Farm Bureau Federation

The shopping list for the Farm Bureau’s Classic Thanksgiving Dinner survey includes turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk.  The quantities measured are enough to serve a family of ten with plenty of leftovers.  The marquee item, the 16-pound turkey, came in at $20.80 versus $21.71 last year.  Turkey prices are now at the lowest level since 2014.  The 4.2% decline helped offset modestly higher prices on other items including milk (+6.2%), rolls (+11.1%) and sweet potatoes (+10.6%).  Pumpkin pie and stuffing both showed price declines.  Families substituting a ham for the turkey will find the price per pound up 7.4% from last year, driven primarily by tight global supplies.  While the broader economic message is that food inflation remains tame, the more important take-away is that the upcoming holiday gives us an opportunity to reflect and give thanks.  On behalf of our team here at C.J. Lawrence, we extend to you and yours our heartfelt wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving!

Terry Gardner Jr. is Portfolio Strategist and Investment Advisor at C.J. Lawrence. Contact him at tgardner@cjlawrence.com or by telephone at 212-888-6403.

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