Agriculture News

November 18, 2020

The cost of Thanksgiving staples see price hike amid pandemic

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Thanksgiving, like most of 2020, is going to be different for families this year. Food prices mirror the uncertainty and volatility that the global pandemic introduced to general life.

“While many of the food prices have come back down off the spikes in late spring and early summer, retail food prices remain significantly higher now than at the same time last year. In October (the last data available), prices of food at grocery stores were 4% higher than the same time last year,” said Jayson Lusk, agricultural economics department head and professor. “It’s been almost a decade, since 2011, that we observed this rate of annual food price inflation.”

Referencing data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Department of Agriculture, Lusk said that wholesale turkey prices are about 15% higher than they were November of last year and 30% higher than Thanksgiving of 2018. Currently, wholesale turkey prices are hovering around $1.25 per pound compared with roughly 95 cents per pound two years ago. At retail locations, meat, dairy and egg prices are running 6.1% higher than this time last year, baking products experienced a 3% hike and produce prices are 2.6% higher than 2019. Given the spike in food prices early in the COVID-19 pandemic, this trend is not surprising, Lusk said, and prices have actually dropped since the spring.

“This year-over-year change is higher than has been observed in the last decade,” Lusk said. “From 2000 to 2019, the average annual change in retail grocery prices was about 1.95%.  Throughout much of 2015 and 2016, retail grocery prices actually fell relative to the year prior.”

As COVID-19 cases climb throughout the country, particularly in the Midwest, Lusk predicts people might see a run on certain goods around the holidays, although nothing compared with the empty shelves seen in March. Many stores experienced shortages in the spring as demand shifted away from restaurants and fast-food restaurants to grocery store goods, and the nationwide food system had a scramble to adjust and meet those demands. Now, grocers are more prepared, and there are no anticipated shortages.

Smaller gatherings and less travel are anticipated this year holiday season, Lusk said, which means people will buy smaller turkeys, less food or, potentially, opt for more nontraditional Thanksgiving meals.

“Do you really need a 20-pound turkey if the entire family isn’t coming to visit?” he said.

Writer: Emma Ea Ambrose, 765-494-2406, eeambros@purdue.edu

Source: Jayson Lusk, 765-494-4191, jlusk@purdue.edu

Agricultural Communications: 765-494-8415;

Maureen Manier, Department Head, mmanier@purdue.edu  

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