Wed. Nov 30th, 2022

In early November, Hays Culbreth’s mother sent a survey to several family members. She said she could only afford two sides for their group of 15 this Thanksgiving and asked them to each vote for their favorites.

Culbreth guesses that green beans and macaroni and cheese will be the best, but his favorite – brown sugar-crusted sweet potato combo – won’t.

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“Talk about Thanksgiving being ruined,” joked Culbreth, 27, a financial planner from Knoxville, Tennessee.

Americans are bracing for an expensive Thanksgiving this year, with double-digit percentage increases in the price of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, canned pumpkin and other staples. The US government estimates that food prices will rise by 9.5% to 10.5% this year; historically, they have only grown 2% per year.

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Lower production and higher labor, transportation and item costs are part of the reason; illness, bad weather and the war in Ukraine also contribute.

“This is really not a matter of shortage. This is a reduced supply for pretty good reasons,” said David Anderson, a professor and agricultural economist at Texas A&M.

Wholesale turkey prices are at record highs after a tough year for U.S. flocks. A particularly deadly strain of bird flu — first reported in February at an Indiana turkey farm — has killed 49 million turkeys and other poultry in 46 states this year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

As a result, U.S. turkey supplies per capita are at their lowest level since 1986, said Mark Jordan, CEO of Leap Market Analytics in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Jordan predicts the wholesale price of 8- to 16-pound frozen turkey hens — the kind typically bought for Thanksgiving — will reach $1.77 a pound in November, up 28% from the same month last year.

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Still, there will be plenty of whole birds for Thanksgiving tables, Jordan said. Companies have been moving a higher percentage of birds across the turkey market in recent years to take advantage of steady holiday demand.

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And not every manufacturer was equally affected. Butterball — which supplies about one-third of its Thanksgiving turkeys — said bird flu affected only about 1% of its production because of safety measures it put in place after the last major flu outbreak in 2015.

But customers may have a harder time finding turkey breasts or other cuts, Jordan said. And higher ham prices give chefs fewer cheap alternatives, he said.

Bird flu also pushed egg prices into record territory, Anderson said. In the second week of November, a dozen Grade A eggs sold for an average of $2.28, more than double the price of the previous year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Egg prices would have been higher even without the flu, Anderson said, because of rising prices for corn and soybean meal used in chicken feed. Ukraine is normally a large exporter of corn, and the loss of that supply caused a jump in world prices.

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Add that to rising prices for canned pumpkin _ a 30-ounce can is up 17% over last year, according to market researcher Datasembly — and it’s clear that Thanksgiving dessert is going to be more expensive, too. Nestle-owned Libby’s – which produces 85% of the world’s canned pumpkins – said pumpkin harvests were in line with previous years, but had to compensate for higher labor, transport, fuel and energy costs.

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Planning to charge on the side? It will also cost you. A 16-ounce box of the stuffing costs 14% more than last year, Datasemby said. And a 5-pound bag of russet potatoes averaged $3.26 in the second week of November, or 45.5% more than a year ago.

Craig Carlson, CEO of Chicago-based Carlson Produce Consulting, said the frost and wet spring have severely slowed potato growth this year. Growers also raised prices to compensate for higher costs of seeds, fertilizers, diesel fuel and machinery. Production costs have risen as much as 35% for some growers this year, an increase they can’t always recoup, Carlson said.

Higher labor and food costs also make ordering a prepared meal more expensive. Whole Foods is advertising a classic Thanksgiving feast for eight people for $179.99. That’s $40 more than the advertised price last year.

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good news? Not every item on your holiday shopping list is significantly more expensive. Cranberries had a good harvest, and prices rose less than 5% between late September and early November, said Paul Mitchell, an agricultural economist and professor at the University of Wisconsin. Green beans cost just 2 cents more per pound in the second week of November, according to the USDA.

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Many grocers are discounting turkeys and other holiday staples in hopes that shoppers will spend more freely on other items. Walmart promises turkeys for less than $1 a pound and says ham, potatoes and stuffing will cost the same as last year. Kroger and Lidl have also cut prices, so shoppers can spend $5 or less per person on a meal for 10. Aldi is bringing prices back to 2019 levels.

But Hays Culbreth isn’t optimistic about his casserole. He’s not much of a cook, so he plans to pick up a few pumpkin pies at the grocery store on his way to a family feast.

© 2022 The Canadian Press