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Thanksgiving dinner costs drop to 10-year low

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The traditional Thanksgiving fare of turkey and all the trimmings will be less of a hit to household budgets this year, as grocers slash costs, including that of the bird at the center of the meal that's now the cheapest it's been in a decade.

Assuming 10 guests attend this year's feast, the usual holiday menu of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray and pumpkin pie with whipped cream, along with coffee and milk, comes to $46.90, according to an annual survey from the American Farm Bureau Federation. That's 4% less than a year ago before COVID-19.

The cost breakdown comes amid expectations that family gatherings will be smaller this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 250,000 Americans. 

Public health officials including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a group of bipartisan governors are urging Americans to stay home to ensure their loved ones will still be around for the holidays next year. "None of us wants the guilt of gathering and unwittingly spreading this virus to someone we love," the state leaders wrote Wednesday in an op-ed in the Washington Post. 

Turkey prices are running 7% less than in 2019, at $19.39 for a 16-pound bird, or about $1.21 a pound. Whipping cream and sweet potatoes cost a bit less, while dinner rolls, cubed-bread stuffing and pumpkin pie mix cost moderately more, the farm bureau found.

"The average cost of this year's Thanksgiving dinner is the lowest since 2010," John Newton, the farm bureau's chief economist, said in a statement.

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"Pricing whole turkeys as 'loss leaders' to entice shoppers and move product is a strategy we're seeing retailers use that's increasingly common the closer we get to the holiday," he explained.

As retailers struggle to keep toilet paper and cleaning supplies on store shelves amid another round of coronavirus-fueled panic buying by Americans worried about being stuck at home, turkeys remain widely available. 

"Turkeys — and other staples of the traditional Thanksgiving meal — are currently in ample supply at grocery stores in most areas of the country," Newton said.

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