West Lafayette, Indiana - Consumers can expect below normal increases in the price of food for Thanksgiving dinner this year, with one exception: turkey.
Corinne Alexander, a Purdue University agricultural economist who follows food prices, said there has been only an 0.8 percent increase in grocery prices from September 2014 to September of this year. She attributes the slight increase to ample grain inventories and an expansion in livestock production.
But she expects turkey prices to be about 15-20 percent higher than last year.
"This price increase is much larger than typical as a result of the avian influenza outbreak that affected turkey flocks earlier this year," Alexander said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts wholesale prices for Eastern market whole turkey to be between $1.31 and $1.37 per pound the last three months of this year, compared with $1.14 last year.
Alexander said the actual prices consumers will pay will vary. Affecting prices will be the differences between frozen and fresh turkeys, organic and nonorganic, brand names and the value of store coupons and price specials.
Grocery stores often price Turkey as a "loss leader," and many will feature turkeys at special prices for frequent shoppers or if they buy larger birds, Alexander said.
Other staples of the Thanksgiving dinner will be easier on the wallet. With cranberry producers expecting a good crop, Alexander said the price of that side dish will remain about the same as last year. She added that there will be adequate supplies of white potatoes and sweet potatoes, meaning those food items are not expected to increase in price, either.
On average, Americans spend about 10 percent of their incomes on food. Many families, however, find their budgets tightened by unemployment, minimal wage increases and inflation's continued erosion of fixed incomes.
"For these families, any food price rise is significant," Alexander said. "We should remember those who are less fortunate and share our food bounty."
Alexander also said energy prices such as electricity and natural gas are unchanged or even lower than last year, so it will cost less to cook Thanksgiving dinner.
She also noted that gasoline prices are down nearly 30 percent compared with last year. That means consumers will spend less to travel this holiday.