Price Of Trimmings Drive Up Cost Of Thanksgiving Feast But Turkey Remains A Bargain In Area Stores

November 21, 1990|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

As anybody who's trudged through the aisles of a holiday-emblazoned grocery store knows, tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

But as you dash out for that final pint of egg nog, or pick up that long-anticipated fresh turkey, consider what it costs to put this feast together.

Surprisingly, roast turkey is actually one of the better dining bargains of the year, say area grocers and home economists. Even in these times of higher inflation and economic downturn, Thanksgiving feast prices are about where they were last year.

Turkey is at a lower per-pound price than bologna. While prices vary from store to store and from week to week, the top-of-the-line frozen birds are selling for less than $1 a pound. Fresh turkeys are tagged at 69 cents to 99 cents a pound.

Last Thanksgiving, turkey prices ranged from about 60 cents to 89 cents a pound.

"The turkey market right now is good to excellent," said Judy Stuart, an extension agent and home economist with the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service in Carroll County. "Basically, pound-per-pound, turkey is a great bargain. There is no reason to forgo it because of the bad economy."

Carroll shoppers apparently aren't reducing their appetite for turkeys this year, say local grocers. Turkeys are selling as well as last year at the Westminster Co-Op Supermarket, said its manager, Bill Ferencz. At the Weis supermarket on Route 140 in Westminster, meat manager Jim Kopp said business is up.

"Because of the economy, I think more people are buying turkeys," he said. "It's one of the cheapest things you can buy in the store."

One of the reasons turkey prices are a bargain is that grocery stores use the bird as a sort of loss leader, according to the Virginia-based National Turkey Federation, a trade group for the $5 billion-a-year turkey industry.

"While they are reluctant to do so, grocery stores willingly take a loss on turkeys," said Eddie Aldreti, the federation's director of public affairs. "Grocers know that once you're in the store you're going to pick up at least $50 worth of trimmings."

And, as is usually the case, those trimmings are what run up the price of the holiday meal. During a recent trip to the Super Fresh store on Route 140 in Westminster, many traditional holiday items were much higher priced than turkey.

Indeed, celery, turkey, onions, tomatoes and McIntosh apples all cost 99 cents a pound; sausage, $2.99 a pound; cranberries, $1.49 a pound; mushrooms, $1.69 a pound; and stuffing, $1.09 a box.

Add in the price of flour, sugar, carrots, pumpkin pie, potatoes, peas, wine, soft drinks, coffee and tea, and a Thanksgiving feast can cost an average of about $60 for a family of four.

As with any other retail business, those dealing in food count on the two-month holiday period for a big chunk of their sales.

In the turkey business alone, some 40 percent of its revenues are during the holiday season. Of the 281.3 million turkeys expected to be raised and consumed by the end of this year, 50 million of them will be eaten tomorrow, the Turkey Federation's Aldreti said. The second most-feared day in a turkey's life is Christmas, when Americans gobble up about 13 million of the birds.

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