How to get a great deal on Thanksgiving dinner

By Consumer ReportsConsumer Reports

Here’s some good news to chew on. The cost of Thanksgiving dinner has gone up by only a few pennies, continuing a period of price stability that dates back to 2011, according to a new study.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, which dispatched 170 volunteer shoppers to grocery stores in 35 states, conducted its annual anecdotal survey to calculate the cost of a meal (for 10) that includes turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and beverages of coffee and milk. The price for this year’s feast: $49.41, up 37 cents from last year’s average of $49.04. A decade ago, that same meal cost $35.68. The bill totaled $28.40 20 years ago, according to the Federation.

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The big ticket item—a 16-pound turkey—came in at $21.65 this year, or about $1.35 per pound, a decrease of less than 1 cent per pound vs. 2013.

As soon as the results of the study were disclosed, Walmart, the nation’s largest grocer, came out with a press release bragging how its prices for that same meal totaled $32.64, about $17 less than the average.

Learn how to be a smarter supermarket shopper so you can maximize savings. And use these tips to avoid packing on the Thanksgiving pounds.

We at Consumer Reports have been informally tracking prices, too, on our own market basket of turkey and the packaged trimmings many shoppers buy for their holiday meal. First, we eyeballed prices at a handful of local stores for two weeks starting around Nov. 3. Then we again shopped for the same items Nov. 20 to 22. We sought name-brand goods and took advantage of store coupons and discounts via preferred-shopper programs. Since the stores sometimes carried different brands, we substituted one national name for another when necessary.

Bottom line: Prices on almost everything on our list dropped as promotions kicked in and the holiday drew closer. Expect the deals in this week’s flyers to be equally aggressive. So if you waited this long, your patience should be rewarded. From canned sweet potatoes to frozen pumpkin pie, jarred gravy to eggnog, prices were collectively about 40 percent lower at the end of the month than at the beginning. A 6-ounce box of Stovetop stuffing, for example, fell from $1.99 to $1, while whole Ocean Spray cranberry sauce tumbled from as much as $2.79 to $1.29. Product sizes are comparable, unless otherwise noted.

Here’s a price comparison among several local supermarket chains—as well as Amazon Fresh (in Brooklyn, N.Y.) a week before Thanksgiving:

*Price per quart, based on half-gallon size. **Sara Lee. Price is based on cost per ounce times 27 ounces (the weight of the Mrs Smith’s pie). The Sara Lee pie, as sold, weighs 37 ounces.  ***Price based on two 13.75-oz.packages

—Tod Marks

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