Note: Year-over-year price comparisons are from Oct. 10, 2022, to Oct. 10, 2023, provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service, except where noted.
As Thanksgiving approaches, many of us begin planning to prepare our family’s favorite dishes, from the traditional turkey to candied yams and pumpkin pie. But consumers will find many of their holiday essentials pricier than in years past. How much more expensive will this year’s Thanksgiving meal be? That will depend on what you buy.
If you go the route of buying and preparing a turkey, you can expect to see some price relief this holiday compared to last year when Avian influenza was taking its toll on many poultry birds. Nationally, the weighted average retail price per pound for a frozen whole bird before taxes, was $1.99 for the week of Oct. 6 -12, 2023. This was down one-third from $2.99 last year, according to the USDA National Retail Report – Turkey. For a 15-pound turkey, this means spending $29.85 this year versus $44.85 last year. As we approach Thanksgiving, prices will probably tick upward as last-minute buyers scramble for a bird and retailers’ inventories are drawn down, but even procrastinators can expect this year’s turkey to be cheaper than last year’s.
If you make your cranberry sauce from scratch instead of buying it canned, you can expect to spend a bit more this year on the main ingredient. If we take Philadelphia terminal prices for non-organic varieties produced in Wisconsin as a proxy for cranberries nationwide, the price for 24 12-ounce bags was $38, or about $2.11 per pound this year versus $34 to $35 for the same quantity last year, or between $1.89 and $1.94 per pound. That is between an 8.6% and 11.8% annual increase. Because these are terminal market prices, you need to factor in retail markups added at your local grocery store as well. But, if you decide to go the canned cranberry sauce route, you can still expect to pay more once the costs of processing and canning are accounted for on top of the cost of the cranberries themselves.
Green bean casserole
A personal holiday favorite of mine is green bean casserole. The legume that goes into this dish comes in many varieties but suppose we go with the domestically grown round green type variety from California. Until this past winter’s exceptional snowfall helped to replenish reservoirs and recharge aquifers, Central California growers struggled with a multi-year drought that was adversely impacting yields for a host of agricultural commodities. This year conditions improved for many West Coast producers and provided some relief to consumers in the form of reduced prices. For handpicked non-organic round green beans from the Californian central coast, prices at the Los Angeles terminal market significantly fell the past year from $45 for a 30-pound carton ($1.50 per pound) in October 2022, to between $22 and $24 for the same 30-pound carton (73 cents to 80 cents per pound) in this October. As with cranberries, these terminal market prices do not account for retail markups nor the additional costs of processing if one goes for canned or frozen.
Candied yams and sweet potatoes
One holiday favorite originating in the American South are candied yams, which can be made using yams or sweet potatoes. (For those with a family member with a nightshade allergy, you may be happy to know that neither yams nor sweet potatoes are closely related to the common potato of the Solanaceae family.) Comparing 2023 to 2022, you can expect to pay significantly more for yams and about the same for sweet potatoes.
Let’s first turn to yams. This tuber is typically grown and imported from Central and South America as well as West Africa. Blanca (white) yam varieties originate in Colombia and are sold at the Chicago terminal market. The price of a 40-pound carton was up from $46 (or about $1.15 per pound) to $70 (or about $1.75 per pound) from last October, a 52.2% increase. If you went with the Jamaican Yellow variety, Chicago terminal market prices for the same time span doubled from $75 per 40-pound carton, about $1.88 per pound, to between $150 and $160 for the same quantity, or between $3.75 and $4 per pound.
If you prefer sweet potatoes over yams, you will spend much less on this dish and should not expect a stark price change this year compared to last. Given the domestic production of these tubers in the American South, prices are considerably lower than imported yams. Prices for No. 1 grade orange variety sweet potatoes, grown in Mississippi and sold in the Atlanta terminal market, were slightly down, while prices for U.S. No. 2 grades were slightly higher year over year.
A 40-pound carton of the No. 1 grade fell from the $21-to-$23.75 range (53 cents to 59 cents per pound) to $20-to-$22 (roughly from to 50 cents to 55 cents per pound). No. 2 grades, however, are priced slightly higher, from the $16-to-$19 range (40 cents to 48 cents per pound) to $18-to-$20.50 (45 cents to 52 cents per pound).
Finally, no Thanksgiving dinner is complete without pie and what better choice for a fall pie than pumpkin. The central ingredient for the filling has seen some regional variations in prices reflecting differences in the weather this past year. Prices were down for pumpkin varieties produced in the Great Lakes region and sold at the Chicago terminal market. Pie variety pumpkins produced in Ohio were selling for $22 per 20-pound carton ($1.10 per pound) last year, while Michigan-produced pie varieties were selling for $26 per 35-pound carton (74 cents per pound) this year. Again, if you end up buying canned pumpkin puree or pie filling, you can expect increases in labor and materials for processing to be passed through onto the final price in addition to grocery store markups.
Depending on your family’s holiday recipe traditions, you may find some price relief this Thanksgiving. Additionally, if you come from a price-conscious household, you might take price drops for certain items this year as a reason to substitute ingredients or perhaps try some new recipes.
The Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) produces up-to-date price and volume reports on many agriculture commodities including livestock and poultry, dairy grains, as well as other various produce. Further information can be found at the USDA AMS website, https://www.ams.usda.gov/.
Matthew.Paskash@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
Idaho Department of Labor
(208) 236-6710 ext. 4249
 Given the lack of national weighted average price data from the USDA AMS for many individual commodities, this variety of cranberry and terminal market location were chosen for year-over-year comparisons to account for differences in consumer preferences over varieties, transportation costs, differences in local demand etc. Prices for other commodities were similarly proxied by a specific variety and terminal market when no national weighted average was available.
This Idaho Department of Labor project is 100% funded by USDOL as part of $695,785 in Workforce Information Grant funds from the Employment and Training Administration.