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This Nov. 2, 2009 file photo shows a Thanksgiving turkey. The average Turkey Day dinner will cost $49.04, or just 44 cents less in 2013 than it did in 2012. (AP Photo/Larry Crowe)
The cost of turkey and trimmings? Mostly unchanged
Meal deal » Take the 44-cent savings and apply it to a big-screen TV on Black Friday.
First Published Nov 15 2013 12:57 pm • Last Updated Nov 20 2013 08:29 am

Here’s another reason to be thankful this holiday season — the cost of putting Thanksgiving dinner on the table is down slightly from last year.

But don’t bank on those savings for any big Black Friday splurges. The average Turkey Day dinner will cost $49.04, or just 44 cents less this year than it did in 2012. And while every penny counts, if you need to do any traveling to belly up to the big meal, increases in airline and train tickets mean that 44 cents won’t get you very far.

At a glance

Butterball mystery: Turkeys wouldn’t fatten up

Butterball apparently has big fat mystery on its hands: The company says it doesn’t know why some of its turkeys wouldn’t plump up in time for Thanksgiving this year.

CEO Rod Brenneman said it’s the first time it happened and that the company is investigating what went wrong. Butterball had announced last week that it will have a limited supply of large, fresh turkeys that are 16 pounds or heavier for the holidays.

“It’s a really good question. We don’t have an answer yet,” Brenneman said when asked about the cause. But he noted that turkeys are “biological creatures” subject to a variety of factors.

“For whatever reason, they just didn’t gain quite as well this year,” he said.

Like many other turkey producers, Butterball feeds its birds antibiotics to prevent and treat illnesses, which can occur from living in cramped quarters. The use of antibiotics, which also promote growth in livestock, has been the subject of concern that it could lead to antibiotic-resistant germs.

Butterball, a privately held company based in Garner, N.C., declined to say whether it made any changes to its feed formula this year. But the problem seems to have come up rather recently. ­— The Associated Press

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The good news is that after some steep price hikes during the economic downturn about five years ago, food prices have remained mostly stable this year. It’s a welcome change from 2011, when the cost of Thanksgiving dinner jumped $5.73, up from $43.47 in 2010, according to the annual informal survey of consumer grocery prices performed by the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The group estimates the cost by averaging non-sale food prices around the country based on feeding 10 people a meal of turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk. And yes, their estimates account for the need for those all-important leftovers.

The credit for this year’s slight drop in price goes to stable commodity and fuel prices, both strong drivers of the prices consumers pay at the store, says Ricky Volpe, a research economist with the USDA’s Economic Research Service. He says overall grocery prices are down about one-tenth of a percent since January.

One exception — poultry. Though the Farm Bureau didn’t detect a price increase in turkey since last year (they actually found the price for a 16-pound bird down 47 cents), Volpe says consumers shouldn’t be surprised if that component of the meal jumps as much as 5 percent over last year. Higher demand and feed prices are to blame.

However, you might save a bit of cash on gas when you head to the grocer to get your turkey. At the moment, drivers are paying about 25 cents less per gallon than they were a year ago, with a national average of $3.19, according to travel tracker AAA. And while the group hasn’t issued a prediction for gas prices the week of Thanksgiving, they say that in recent years prices generally have dropped in the weeks leading up to the holiday.

Need another reason to drive? The average domestic airfare is up 9.5 percent from last Thanksgiving to $313, according to the Airlines Reporting Corp., which tracks tickets sold by online and by traditional travel agencies. Meanwhile, Amtrak prices in September (the most recent month for which data were available) were up more than 4 percent over a year ago.

Consumers won’t be able to do much about the cost of travel, but there’s always plenty of ways to spend less — and a lot more — on food.

The Farm Bureau estimate budgets $2.18 for a dozen brown-and-serve dinner rolls. But if you’re willing break out a recipe and bake your own, a home cook could cut almost a dollar off that price.


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