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Costs for holiday meals up from last year

published: November 24th 2021
by: Adam Russell
source: Texas AgriLife Today

Costs for preparing holiday meals will be higher this year as prices for most everyday staples and specialty items used in traditional baking recipes are up, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

David Anderson, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension economist, Bryan-College Station, said U.S. Department of Agriculture retail data and that agency’s consumer price index report comparisons of year-over-year trends show costs for most staples are up as the holiday season nears.

Some items like flour, sugar, eggs, potatoes and milk are staples throughout the year, but consumer demand ratchets up during the holidays due to increased baking of traditional fare, Anderson said.

“I think everyone is noticing higher prices on most products, and grocery items are no different,” he said. “Right now, we’re seeing prices go up on many everyday staple items to specialty items we traditionally prepare for the holidays, so the cost of Thanksgiving lunches and dinners is going to be higher than recent years.”

Prices for holiday baking 

Sugar prices are up 2.8% compared to this time last year, according to a USDA consumer price index and outlook report. There were no official reports available focused on baking flour, but Anderson suspects extreme drought cutting yields in major wheat production states by as much as 50% will likely mean higher prices.

Retail egg prices are up 29% to $1.82 per dozen vs $1.41 per dozen last year, according to the USDA egg market overview. Consumer demand has been surprisingly low but are expected to pick up heading into Thanksgiving Day, and egg production is down a little over 1% compared to last year.  

The price for a gallon of fresh whole milk is up 7.6% to $3.66 compared to $3.38 this time last year, Anderson said. Production of total fluid milk was almost the same, and prices for other milk products like cheese, butter and sour cream have changed some, but Anderson said those changes are difficult to quantify.  

Wholesale cheddar cheese is down almost 3% to $5.40 per pound compared to $5.58 per pound last year, while butter prices were up around 5% per pound. A separate USDA Agriculture Marketing Service report indicates cream availability has been short in central and eastern states. Subsequently, some butter production schedules have been hindered by tightened supplies, labor issues and delayed deliveries.

“Feed prices and decreased production are among the top factors driving egg prices up, but then the dip in cheddar prices compared to rising butter prices is a little bit more difficult to say why with the available information,” he said.

Vegetable prices up  

Pinpointing contributing factors for the mixed bag of price increases and decreases for other holiday staples from potatoes to cranberries is also difficult, Anderson said. Overall, fresh fruits and vegetables are 2.7% higher than last year, according to the USDA consumer price index report.

A multi-colored arrangement of fruits and vegetables at grocery store
Fruits and vegetable prices were also up at grocery stores compared to this time last year. (Stock photo)

Reports focused on potatoes show red potatoes were down about 9% to 85 cents per pound compared to 90 cents per pound last year whereas russet potatoes, the typical variety used for mashed potatoes, were relatively unchanged.

Price reports for squash and onions were similarly variety dependent. Butternut and zucchini squash prices were up whereas prices for crooked-neck squash were down 23% based on weighted averages. Prices for sweet and yellow onions were down 4% and 18%, respectively, while the price of red onions was 50% higher.

A 12-ounce bag of cranberries, which are used in traditional holiday side dishes, was up 15% to $2.14 compared to $1.86 last year.

“The retail report is a sampling of 2,700 stores and based on price averages across the country, and this mixed bag of price fluctuations could be indicative of a number of factors. It typically goes back to supply and demand, so if prices went down, they likely had a good crop or lower than normal demand, and if the price went up, there might be an issue in production or supply and/or increased demand.”

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