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Consumers pay less for turkey dinner

People sitting down to dinner today will find the traditional Thanksgiving meal a little cheaper this year.

The average cost for a turkey dinner with all the trimmings for 10 people fell 4 percent from last year, says the American Farm Bureau Federation. Decreases in the average price for whole milk and turkey drove costs down.

The decrease is the largest year-to-year decrease in the cost of a Thanksgiving meal since 2000, when a 4.3 percent decrease was reported.

"As we gather this Thanksgiving for food and fellowship, it's fitting to take a moment to recognize and give thanks, not only for the abundant food we enjoy as Americans, but for the hard-working farm and ranch families across our nation who produce it," said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said in the annual survey.

AFBF's 24th annual informal price survey of classic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table indicates the average cost of this year's feast for 10 people is $42.91, a $1.70 price decrease from last year's average of $44.61.

The AFBF survey shopping list includes turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and beverages of coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10.

The cost of a 16-pound turkey, at $18.65 or roughly $1.16 per pound, reflects a decrease of 3 cents per pound, or a total of 44 cents per turkey compared to 2008.

Milk, at $2.86 per gallon, dropped 92 cents and was the largest contributor to the overall decrease in the cost of the 2009 Thanksgiving dinner, the Farm Bureau said.

According to the survey, three highly processed items -- pumpkin pie mix, pie shells and cubed bread stuffing -- increased slightly in price. Retail prices for highly processed foods such as these, which include costs for transportation and packaging, have been slower to decline compared to minimally processed foods like milk and whole turkeys.

The price for 30 ounces of pumpkin pie mix averaged at $2.45 this year, up 11 cents from last year's $2.34. Earlier this fall, there was a shortage of canned pumpkin due to a smaller than usual 2008 crop, which in a typical year would have been used for processed products, AFBF said. Food companies had to wait for the 2009 crop to ripen in order to put product on the shelves.

The national average price per pound for turkey is $1.16,down 3 cents over last year. The inventory of whole turkeys in cold storage increased through most of 2009, AFBF said, helping support a slightly lower average retail turkey price.

"Consistent with the retail food price declines seen throughout the year, consumers will pay just a bit less for their Thanksgiving feast this year," said Jim Sartwelle, an AFBF economist. "Consumers are benefiting at the grocery store from significantly lower energy prices and the effects of the economic slowdown. Again this year, the cost per person for this special meal is less than a typical 'value meal' at a fast-food outlet."

Other items showing a price decrease this year were: a half pint of whipping cream, $1.55; a 12-ounce package of brown-n-serve rolls, $2.08; a 1-pound relish tray of carrots and celery, 72 cents; and a 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries, $2.41. A combined group of miscellaneous items, including coffee and ingredients necessary to prepare the meal (onions, eggs, sugar, flour, evaporated milk and butter) also dropped in price, to $2.50.

Items that increased slightly (less than 5 percent) in price this year were: a 14-ounce package of cubed bread stuffing, $2.65; two 9-inch pie shells, $2.34; and a 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix, $2.45.

Two items, green peas and sweet potatoes, stayed the same in price at $1.58 for one pound and $3.12 for three pounds, respectively.

Sartwelle said despite retail price increases during the last year or so, American consumers have enjoyed relatively stable food costs over the years, particularly when adjusted for inflation. The 4-percent decrease in national average cost reported this year tracks closely with the organization's 2009 quarterly marketbasket food surveys and the federal government's Consumer Price Index, he added.

The traditional dinner cost $28.74 in 1986, AFBF's first survey. It was $33.83 in 1999 before dipping to $32.37 in 2000. It was $36.78 in 2005 and $42.26 in 2007.

More than 200 volunteer shoppers from 35 states participated in this year's survey, AFBF said. They are asked to look for the best possible prices, without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or purchase deals.