Holiday dinner still affordable

Published 1:04 am Saturday, November 22, 2008

While the centerpiece of the holiday feast will likely cost more this year, shoppers may be surprised to find that some Thanksgiving dinner ingredients are less expensive. According to a holiday market basket survey conducted by the Alabama Farmers Federation Nov. 1-10, the average cost of pecans, oranges and pre-packaged stuffing dropped while turkey, ham, cranberry sauce and apples increased in price.

Whole turkeys averaged $1.18 a pound, up 9 cents from a year ago, and smoked hams were up 8 cents to $1.95 a pound. Pecans, however, dropped 33 cents to $7.48 a pound; stuffing was down 79 cents to $2.27 a pound; and oranges were still a bargain at $1 a pound, down 9 cents.

Meanwhile, cranberry sauce was up a nickel to $1.14 for a 16-ounce can, and apples were up 23 cents to $1.54 a pound. Sweet potatoes were basically unchanged at 83 cents a pound, up 2 cents.

Unfortunately, holiday specials on seasonal favorites may not extend to the rest of the grocery store this year. According to the Federation’s monthly food price survey, the average cost of 20 basic market basket items was up 51 cents in November, an increase of nine tenths of 1 percent from October.

Higher prices for pork and poultry had a big impact on the overall grocery bill as bacon jumped 23 cents to $4.18 a pound. Pork chops were also a penny higher at $3.56 a pound, while Boston butts were down a nickel to $1.86 a pound. Chicken breasts also posted a big increase, averaging $2.14 a pound, up 19 cents. Eggs also were up 16 cents to $1.75 a dozen. Whole fryers, however, were up just 3 cents to $1.23 a pound.

The best buys at the meat counter, this month, were for beef. T-bone steaks averaged $8.35 a pound, down 33 cents, and chuck roasts were down 15 cents to $3.52 a pound, while ground beef was unchanged at $2.44 a pound.

On the produce aisle, tomatoes averaged $1.63 a pound, up 19 cents, and red potatoes were up a penny to 93 cents a pound. Lettuce, however, was down 9 cents to $1.54 cents a head, and sweet potatoes were down 4 cents from a month ago to 83 cents a pound.

In the dairy case, bakers could find butter for $3.89 a pound, down 2 cents, but milk was up 14 cents to $3.26 a half-gallon. Cottage cheese also was up 13 cents to $2.85 a pound, and ice cream edged a penny higher to $4.03 a half-gallon.

Regional reports collected around the state showed the market basket averaged $52.72 in northwest Alabama, $52.84 in the northeast corner of the state, $55.15 in the central counties and $59.46 in south Alabama.

Despite increases in food prices this year, the components of a classic Thanksgiving dinner cost less compared to 1988 when the effects of inflation are removed. Even at these slightly higher prices, the cost per person for the holiday meal remains lower than most “value meals” at fast-food outlets.

Jeff Helms is the communications department director for the Alabama Farmers Federation.