Thanksgiving dinner cheaper than last year, but Food Bank duties continue

The whole turkey cost this year dropped 36 cents on average, while the total cost of a traditional dinner dropped 75 cents from last year.

An increase in milk production and a large inventory of cold storage has driven the cost of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner to its lowest point in five years, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

This year’s annual price survey found those feeding 10 dinner guests will spend $49.12, or 75 cents less than last year. After adjusting for inflation, the cost of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner stands at $20.54, the lowest level since 2010.

But while the slight decrease in cost to serve a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is good news for most consumers, for many Missoula families it still presents an economic challenge.

“We’ve distributed 2,004 turkeys since Sunday,” said Aaron Brock, executive director of the Missoula Food Bank. “That’s an equivalent number of houses, since each household gets one turkey. Those houses are comprised of 6,500 people.”

The numbers are up slightly over last year, Brock said on Wednesday.

The big-ticket item in this year’s Thanksgiving dinner remained the turkey, which decreased 36 cents per whole animal compared to last year, according to the Farm Bureau.

In addition to the turkey, foods showing the largest price decrease were a gallon of milk at $2.99 and a dozen rolls at $2.26. Two nine-inch pie shells cost $2.45 while a 3-pound bag of sweet potatoes rang in at $3.52.

The figures are based on the Consumer Price Index for foods eaten at home.

“Milk production has increased, resulting in continued low retail prices,” said John Newton, director of intelligence for the Farm Bureau. “In addition, grocers often use milk as a loss leader to entice consumers to shop at their stores.”

Items that increased in price this year included a half-pint of whipping cream at $2.08 and a 14-ounce package of cubed bread stuffing at $2.81. Pumpkin pie mix, fresh cranberries and veggie trays also increased in price.

“Whole whipping cream is up about 4 percent in price, due to increased consumer demand for full-fat dairy products,” Newton said.

According SmartAsset, food prices in Montana are generally higher than many other states.

Compared to a national index of 100, groceries in Montana come in at 109 percent. The state government estimates that one in five children in Montana face food insecurity.

The Food Bank helps fill that gap, and its list of clients has grown in recent years.

“The store has been packed all week,” said Jessica Allred, the Food Bank’s director of development. “We’re definitely seeing more families through our door than ever before.”