Food industry groups say Thanksgiving feasts to cost less

The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that Thanksgiving dinners will cost less in 2020 due to a drop in per-pound prices for turkey and the need for smaller gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic.

SALT LAKE CITY – Gov. Gary Herbert’s most recent executive order enforcing statewide coronavirus precautions will expire Monday, just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.

At his monthly press conference on Nov. 19, the governor insisted that he wouldn’t dream of issuing “orders” to Utahns about how to observe that traditional day. But Herbert did emphasize that the state’s website lists helpful “recommendations” from public health experts how to safely have a holiday gathering.

In fact, those recommendations run six pages long. Their bottom line – repeated over and over again – is the friendly “suggestion” that Thanksgiving should be limited to household members and kept small, ideally 10 people or less.

That’s convenient, because 10 participants was exactly the size of the hypothetical gathering that the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) used to develop its 2020 estimate of the cost of hosting a full-scale turkey dinner in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

With the pandemic causing shortages on grocery shelves and disrupting retailers’ supply-chains, some food industry analysts expected the average cost of a Thanksgiving dinner to jump. Instead, the AFBF estimates that the cost of a turkey feast is actually down 4% this year.

The price of a Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings (turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls, a vegetable dish, cranberry sauce and dessert) for 10 people is expected to average around $47 this year. That’s a savings of about $2 from the cost of the same meal in 2019.

In an average year, the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association says that more than 46 million turkeys would be served on Thanksgiving, at a cost of about $1.1 billion. Nationwide, Americans are also expected to consume about 214 million pounds of potatoes, 50 million pumpkin pies and 80 million pounds of cranberries on Thanksgiving.

So how will the coronavirus pandemic impact that national tradition? Mostly by spreading equal amounts of consumption around to more tables, retail analysts suggest.

Like Utah, nearly all states are advising their residents to avoid large family gatherings in the wake of surging COVID-19 infection rates. More Thanksgiving feasts will likely be prepared this year to feed smaller, more widely scattered family groups.

Commodity experts suggest that the number of turkeys purchased this year may exceed the usual 46 million, while the poundage sold may actually remain stable. That’s because demand for birds of 20 or more pounds is expected to decline since the number of persons being fed at the average dinner will be lower. Conversely, the demand for smaller hen turkeys in the 10- to 18-pound range is expected to be higher.

Another item of good news for hosts planning Thanksgiving dinners is that the cost of turkey is down this year. The AFBF reports that the average per-pound cost for a turkey is about $1.21, making a 16-pound bird ring up for about $19 at the super market.

As always, in addition to limiting the size of Thanksgiving gatherings, state officials are recommending mask wearing, frequent hand-washing and social distancing even at the diner table.

They also suggest that Utah families forego holiday traditions like singing, playing musical instruments or exchanging hugs.

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