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Thanksgiving dinner is more expensive this year as inflation hits 30-year high

Meat lines the refrigerated section at a Schnucks store in Kirkwood. Thanksgiving meals, including the cost of turkeys and hams, are more expensive this year because of inflation, which is at a 30-year high.
Meat lines the refrigerated section at a Schnucks store in Kirkwood, Missouri. Thanksgiving meals, including the cost of turkeys and hams, are more expensive this year because of inflation, which is at a 30-year high.

A St. Louis Fed economist says economic recovery from the pandemic has propelled demand for consumption, and it will take time for prices to even out.

Prices on everything from food to gas are spiking, and that’s making it harder for Shekela Bester to make sure the roughly 100 low-income families she helps have what they need.

“Everything, extremely, is going up — the need is going up,” said Bester, who launched the Florissant-based nonprofit HOPPEE last May. It stands for Happy On Purpose People Empowering Everyone.

“It has been a challenge,” said Bester. “You’re kind of like couponing as an organization for the community to try and find all those deals and bargains you can.”

Bester isn’t the only one struggling to adjust to higher prices. Across the country, people are dealing with the impact ofinflation hitting a 30-year high on top of supply chain issues. That’s making Thanksgiving more expensive this year.

The average cost of a 10-person traditional Thanksgiving dinner will be $53.31 — 14% higher than last year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual price survey.

Fernando Martin, an economist and an assistant vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, said economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic has propelled demand for consumption. That means as people look to buy more things, prices go up.

“Thanksgiving, Christmas, et cetera, is going to be more expensive than before,” he said. “Also, given that energy prices have gone up, that means the distribution costs of many goods. We not only eat, but we also travel to places to gather together and we also buy goods that have to be transported and the increase in fuel prices will bring the price up.”

The White House announced a plan Tuesday to reduce gas prices, but it won’t happen before the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Unlike earlier in the pandemic when only certain products like lumber or used cars were more expensive, Martin said inflation is more widespread now.

“You shouldn't expect ‘Oh, tomorrow, everything is going back to normal.’ Why? Because now you have way more goods increasing in price. Until they adjust to a new normal, it may take a bit of time,” he said.

Ted Schnuck, executive vice president of supermarkets at Schnucks, said inflation has been a big issue because grocery stores like his need to stay competitive despite the cost increases.

“The company certainly does absorb a number of the costs that come through; they’re not all passed on to the consumer,” he said. “But there are some situations where the costs do flow through, and we try to be smart about where that is, especially in regard to the staple items.”

Schnuck said the company tries to keep every-day purchases consistent, while more discretionary items are less sheltered from higher price fluctuations.

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, he said frozen turkey sales jumped two-to-three times what they’ve seen in previous years. Schnuck said that’s a result of “perceived product shortages.”

“We actually have more supply of turkeys this year than we did last year,” he said.

But Bester couldn’t find turkeys or hams to buy in bulk at several stores in the St. Louis region when she looked earlier this month with the intention of giving them away to families in need. Instead, she plans to surprise families by paying for their groceries at the register this week.

“This year the resources and everything has been limited, so we have to shorten our supplies,” she said, adding that she's always looking for more donations. “We want to be able to do more.”

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Corinne Ruff joined St. Louis Public Radio as the economic development reporter in April, 2019. She grew up among the cornfields in Northern Illinois and later earned degrees in Journalism and French at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has since reported at the international, national and local level on business, education and social justice issues.
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