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Thanksgiving Dinners Are The Cheapest They've Been In Decades

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

(Imitating robot) Every year before Thanksgiving - sorry, I was trying to sound like an AI voice there. Every year before Thanksgiving, the American Farm Bureau sends volunteer shoppers into grocery stores. They note the prices of the ingredients that go into Thanksgiving dinner. Cardiff Garcia and Paddy Hirsch from NPR's podcast The Indicator from Planet Money discovered the cost of Thanksgiving is going down.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

CARDIFF GARCIA: The American Farm Bureau is a group that represents farmers throughout the country. And in its annual survey, it found that the average cost of Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people this year is $46.90.

PADDY HIRSCH: And the Farm Bureau's chief economist, John Newton, says that figure is low - really low.

JOHN NEWTON: That's down 4% from what we saw last year and actually is the lowest level that we've seen since 2010.

HIRSCH: And that's without adjusting for inflation. We asked John if he could tell us how the cost of Thanksgiving dinner has changed when he does adjust for inflation.

GARCIA: And specifically, what we wanted to know was if it was possible that Thanksgiving dinner was actually the cheapest it had ever been since the survey was started back in 1986.

NEWTON: Wait; let me power up my spreadsheet just to make sure.

GARCIA: Sure, sure, sure. Go for it. Yeah, yeah. Check it out.

NEWTON: Yes, it is. It is the lowest that it's been in 35 years.

GARCIA: Wait a minute. What did you just tell me?

NEWTON: That in inflation-adjusted dollars, Thanksgiving dinner's going to be the lowest it's been in 35 years.

GARCIA: Aren't you stunned?

NEWTON: You know, I am, actually. I don't know why I didn't look at that particular statistic before you asked me.

GARCIA: So John says that you basically have to understand two stories to also understand why Thanksgiving dinner is so cheap this year.

HIRSCH: OK, so here's the first story. What happened this year? The ingredient with the biggest decline in its price is the turkey.

NEWTON: Turkey prices came in at $1.21 per pound. That was down 7% from what we saw last year, which means you can put a 16-pound bird on the table for less than $20 this year.

HIRSCH: And this could be partly because the pandemic has forced families not to gather together in the same big groups as they normally would, so there's just less demand for those big turkeys that families usually buy. And it's also because a lot of grocery stores have discounted the price of turkey, frankly, just to get people through the door.

NEWTON: According to the Department of Agriculture, more than 80% of retailers were running promotions across the country when we started this survey. So you'll see turkey prices that range anywhere from 29 cents a pound to, you know, 2.99 a pound, depending on what type of grocer you're in.

GARCIA: And then there's the second, the longer-term story to tell. And this is actually an easy one to explain. Because of new technologies and innovations in how to produce food over the last few decades, farmers have simply become better at it, more efficient, which means that they can sell the food for cheaper.

NEWTON: You've got to recognize that we benefit from a high-quality and very affordable food supply. You know, we spend a small percentage of our disposable income on food. Food in the United States is very affordable.

GARCIA: Now, John and the Farm Bureau, of course, represent farmers, so he's boosting his peeps there a little bit. But the general story that the agricultural sector in the U.S. has become more and more efficient over time is definitely true.

HIRSCH: Paddy Hirsch.

GARCIA: Cardiff Garcia, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF KIEFER'S "ORANGE CRAYON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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