You might have a little more pocket money left over for Black Friday this year, thanks to falling grocery prices this Thanksgiving.
The price of a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people fell for the second year in a row, the American Farm Bureau Federation said in its annual survey, out Thursday.
The total this year came to $49.12, down by 75 cents from last year, and down a total of 99 cents from two years ago.
The price for the holiday spread fell even though grocery prices generally have been rising slightly this year, up about 0.6 percent in October compared with this time last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Grocers tend to step up their price wars at the holidays, with the days around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s among the biggest traffic and sales days of the year for supermarkets.
“There’s so much at stake for them,” said Chicago-area grocery consultant Bill Bishop. “It’s important to win.”
Amazon used the upcoming food holiday to make a well-timed announcement Wednesday about price cuts at Whole Foods, the grocery chain it bought in August. It promoted deals on organic turkeys, with extra savings for members of its Amazon Prime program. The e-commerce giant called the price cuts a preview of what’s to come when Prime becomes the rewards program for Whole Foods.
The Farm Bureau conducts its informal annual survey with help from volunteers who check out grocery store prices nationwide. They figure out what it will cost to serve Thanksgiving dinner, including turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk.
A big part of the decline in this year’s meal came from turkey, the most heavily promoted Thanksgiving item at grocery stores.
A 16-pound turkey came in at a total of $22.38 this year, the Farm Bureau said. That’s roughly $1.40 per pound, a decrease of 2 cents per pound, compared with 2016. That’s because of a large inventory of turkeys in cold storage, the Farm Bureau said.
Bishop, the grocery consultant, said he noticed lower prices on turkeys in ads this year. At Aldi, for example, a Butterball turkey is priced at 99 cents a pound, down from $1.29 last year.
Other Omaha-area retailers had their own deals: Family Fare has turkey at 57 cents a pound, and Baker’s has one variety at 57 cents a pound and another at 89 cents a pound. Fareway gives a free turkey with a $50 purchase, and Hy-Vee brought back its annual “buy a ham, get a free turkey” promotion.
Even though it’s possible to put a low-cost spread on the table, as the Farm Bureau describes, many people tend to spend much more on extras at the holidays, in a win for supermarkets that lure them in the door with low turkey prices, Bishop said.
For example, “it’s a time when you might buy some special cheese that you might not otherwise have, and treat your friends and loved ones.”
It’s also the time to open the family recipe book and dive into the comfort foods you grew up with, he said.
And other shoppers are willing to spend more to take some of the hassle out of cooking. The Farm Bureau noted the popularity of supermarkets offering ready-to-eat prepared meals, usually from $50 to over $100. Baker’s, Family Fare and Hy-Vee offer those in Omaha.
“They are very popular with customers, and it does help take some of the pressure off putting on a Thanksgiving meal for your family,” Baker’s spokeswoman Sheila Lowrie said. Some customers order a pre-made basic meal and then supplement it with their own family’s favorite side dishes.
In another time saver, Baker’s has waived its online ordering fee for a limited time, Lowrie said, to make it easier for shoppers to order holiday groceries ahead for pickup at the store.
Budget-minded shoppers can take advantage of all the sales by stocking up, said Cindy Brison, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension educator and a dietitian.
Buy an extra turkey now and stick it in the freezer for later, she said. Other items to stock up on are spices, eggs, baking supplies, and vegetables you can freeze like onions (after they’re chopped) and sweet potatoes (after they’re cooked).
If time is money, Brison’s best time-saving tip is to cook a turkey or two the day before Thanksgiving, then warm up what you’ll serve, and freeze the rest.
“You’re not wasting it, you’re not throwing it away, and it’s a time saver,” Brison said.