Let’s talk turkey.
Feeding a family during a typical week has become more expensive, but on Thanksgiving when the highlight of the day is a feast and guests are visiting, budgets can take a serious hit.
Food inflation means that a traditional Thanksgiving dinner will cost families 25% more this year than it did on the last pre-pandemic Turkey Day in 2019. That’s according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, an agricultural advocacy group that has tracked national food prices since 1986.
The Farm Bureau’s experts say this year’s cost for a 10-person family meal at home is actually a little less than it was last year, falling from the record-high $64.05 in 2022 to $61.17. The drop, they say, is largely due to the lower cost for turkey.
“Traditionally, the turkey is the most expensive item on the Thanksgiving dinner table,” said Farm Bureau senior economist Veronica Nigh. Last year, the spread of avian influenza meant there were fewer turkeys available and raised prices.
“While shoppers will see a slight improvement in the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner, high inflation continues to hammer families across the country,” Farm Bureau president Zippy Duvall said in a news release.
According to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Consumer Price Index for food at home was up 2.1% over the last year.
What does that mean for shoppers in Beaufort County this holiday season? We decided to do the legwork and find out.
On Thursday, Nov. 9, and Friday, Nov. 10, we visited nine grocery stores in Bluffton and on Hilton Head to check prices in person.
Aldi, 1131 Fording Island Road, Bluffton
Food Lion, 1008 Fording Island Road, Bluffton
Fresh Market, 890 William Hilton Parkway #110, Hilton Head Island
Harris Teeter, 33 Office Park Road Suite 100, Hilton Head Island
Kroger, 27 Discovery Drive, Bluffton
Piggly Wiggly, 1 North Forest Beach Drive, Hilton Head Island
Publix, 101 Buckwalter Place Blvd., Bluffton
Walmart, 25 Pembroke Drive, Hilton Head Island
Whole Foods, 50 Shelter Cove Lane, Hilton Head Island
We looked for the lowest priced item on the store shelves. Most often that was a store brand or a name-brand item being sold at a deep discount to attract holiday food shoppers.
Our shopping list included a dozen items that can be used to prepare a typical Southern Thanksgiving feast for four to six people. Our list was not exhaustive, nor did it include staples like sugar, butter or spices.
We looked for ingredients families may be using to prepare a turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato casserole, and green bean casserole. We also checked prices on cans of cranberry sauce along with prepared rolls and a pumpkin pie.
Here are the food items we priced:Turkey (frozen, whole, 12 pounds)
Russet potatoes (5-pound bag)
Dinner rolls (fresh, dozen)
Cornbread stuffing mix (bagged)
Cranberry sauce (1 can)
Green beans (2 cans)
Cream of mushroom soup (1 can)
Fried onions (6 ounces)
Sweet potatoes (3 pounds)
Mini-marshmallows (10 ounces)
What we found
The overall price for our imaginary shopping cart of groceries, including the frozen turkey, ranged from a high of $74.65 at Whole Foods to a low of $32.78 at Harris Teeter.
Harris Teeter had such deeply discounted turkeys that the main course was not even the most expensive item in the cart.
We took turkeys out of the mix and did the math again to focus on the sides and dessert. In that case, prices dropped from to a high of $50.77 at Whole Foods to a low of $23.48 at Aldi.
The average price across all nine stores for sides and dessert was $33.79.
Frozen turkey was the most expensive item we priced in each store except for the above mentioned Harris Teeter.
To compare the stores, we recorded per-pound prices for frozen whole turkeys and multiplied that by 12 pounds because the same weight of bird was not available at all locations.
In this category, the larger chain stores clearly had an edge because of their ability to sell a large volume of turkeys at a drastically reduced price.
The price at Harris Teeter was 29 cents a pound, albeit with a limit of one turkey. We also found turkey priced at less than $1 per pound at Food Lion, Kroger, Publix and Walmart.
By contrast, the highest per-pound price was at the landmark Piggly Wiggly on Hilton Head’s south end, which priced its frozen turkeys at $2.59 per pound. We assume most shoppers going into The Pig for turkey will be picking up one that’s fresh or has been cooked in the store.
One store on our list, Fresh Market, does not sell frozen turkeys at all.
Even though Aldi offered the cheapest cart of ingredients for sides and dessert, it did not have the lowest price on every ingredient.
The lowest price on a five-pound bag of russet potatoes, at $3 even, was at Piggly Wiggly.
A can of cranberry sauce was cheapest at Kroger, where it was $1.49. Kroger also had the lowest price on fried onions at $2.50
The best price on a pumpkin pie was at Publix, where they were $4.49.