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Eat, drink, and be thankful

Tracking prices of the Thanksgiving meal

Turkey, cornbread, sweets, and more. It’s no wonder 27% of Americans say their favorite holiday is Thanksgiving, according to a 2004 Gallup Poll. And the National Retail Foundation estimates that shoppers spend an average of about $300 per person during the long weekend. Some of that spending is on gifts and holiday sales. Here, we’ll focus on a costs specific to the Thanksgiving Day meal.

The International Monetary Fund tracks the global prices of a number of food items, and FRED has those data. The graph shows the change in price from one year ago for the four series most relevant to Thanksgiving: sugar, corn, poultry, and beverages. Sugar and corn are certainly the most volatile, with prices rising over 100% in a year on several occasions. However, prospects are good this year for a second helping of creamed corn: Prices in June were about 12% lower than they were a year ago (if you are sourcing on world markets), and the trend looks likely to continue.

Turkey, on the other hand, hasn’t fared so well this year. Before March 2017, prices hadn’t fluctuated by more than 20%; however, the change in poultry prices from June 2016 to June 2017 was over 32%. But don’t put away the baster and roasting pan just yet. The index measures the prices of poultry around the globe, not just turkey in the United States. Turkey is still comparatively cheaper than most other U.S. meats and alternatives. According to the USDA, turkey was $1.54 per pound in September, compared with $4.13 per pound for ham and $5.79 for beef roasts. So, although your turkey may be comparatively more expensive than last year’s, sticking to this meat dish may save you a substantial amount.

Those with a sweet tooth can also take a deep breath. June prices for sugar were almost 30% lower than a year prior. While damage done to sugar farms by recent hurricanes could limit future sugar production, recent USDA data show that the price continued to drop in September 2017. Sugar is consistently less volatile than other foods, so your traditional pies and cobblers will likely still find their way to the table.

How this graph was created: Search for “global price” and select “International Monetary Fund” as the source in the sidebar. This should give you all the relevant series on one page. (Otherwise, add them to the graph later.) Select the series you want and click on “Add to Graph.” From the “Edit Graph” tab, select units “Percent change from year ago” and click on “Apply to all.”

Suggested by Maria Hyrc and Christian Zimmermann.


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