Why your Thanksgiving turkey is so cheap


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    - Shannon Mullen/Marketplace

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    - Shannon Mullen/Marketplace

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    - Shannon Mullen/Marketplace

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    - Shannon Mullen/Marketplace

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    - Shannon Mullen/Marketplace

The average price for Thanksgiving dinner this year is $49 and 4 cents, including all the trimmings.  That feeds 10 people, according to an annual survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation.

A 16-pound turkey is the priciest item on the menu at $21 and 76 cents, and it turns out that’s a price drop.

"It's actually down $0.47 from year ago," says Federation economist John Anderson.  One reason for the change, he adds, is that some retailers discount turkey to sell it as a loss leader.  "Turkey is going to be the thing that most people are going to want to have as centerpiece of their meal, and so if, as a retailer, you can get people in your store to buy the turkey, it’s unlikely that that’s all they’re going to buy, right?"

Case in point: at Market Basket in Burlington, MA frozen store-brand birds are on sale for $0.59 per pound this week.  (That's about $0.77 below the average price per pound.)  In a high-traffic area of the store there are long freezer cases full of turkeys, flanked by bins of stuffing mix and cans of cranberry sauce stacked shoulder-high.

 "Our slogan is more for your dollar," says Rob Harrington, a manager for the New England grocery store chain.  "Our business doubles between now and Christmas.  We know what sells, we know what people want during a particular season, so that’s what we put out."

It's kind of like Black Friday specials at department stores.  Besides the retail markdown, wholesale turkey prices drop in the fourth quarter every year, says Corinne Alexander, professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University.  "That's partly because the entire turkey industry gears up for delivering those supplies of turkey at Thanksgiving, so they go into that fourth quarter with large supplies in cold storage," Anderson explains.  

The USDA says this year producers have about four percent more turkey on ice than last year.  "The price they receive from consumers only goes up when the supply of what they’re producing comes down," says Alexander.

For now the bird is a bargain, but that cancels out if you like pumpkin pie; this year’s survey says most of the ingredients to make it will cost $3.20 more.

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