SYLVIE DOUGLIS, BYLINE: NPR.
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DARIAN WOODS, HOST:
This is THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY. I'm Darian Woods.
STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:
And I'm Stacey Vanek Smith. And it is Thanksgiving. Every year at THE INDICATOR, we check in with one of our very favorite indicators, the Thanksgiving index.
WOODS: That is right. The American Farm Bureau tracks the price of about a dozen items that make up Thanksgiving dinner for 10.
VANEK SMITH: Veronica Nigh is a senior economist at the American Farm Bureau.
VERONICA NIGH: And, of course, that includes the turkey. It also includes pie crust, pumpkin pie, whipping cream, dinner rolls, fresh cranberries, whole milk, frozen peas, sweet potatoes, a veggie tray and stuffing.
WOODS: The Farm Bureau's been tracking the price of Thanksgiving since 1986, when the cost of a dinner for 10 was $28.74. But this year, well, let's just say there's a lot to dig into, and we'll get into that after the break.
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WOODS: The Thanksgiving index typically doesn't jump around that much, but the last couple of years have seen some major index drama.
VANEK SMITH: Yes, they have. Last year, for instance, Thanksgiving dinner was the cheapest it has been in 35 years once you adjusted for inflation. Economist Veronica Nigh says part of the reason for that was the demand for all things Thanksgiving dinner was way down in 2020 since so many people stayed home and didn't, you know, gather with a bunch of people or try to tackle a 16-pound bird or, you know, make a bunch of pies.
WOODS: So demand was down. Supply was high. That pushes prices down. But this year, Thanksgiving travel is bouncing back in a big way, and so are prices.
NIGH: So that basket of goods compared to last year is up 14%.
WOODS: Today's indicator is $53.31. That is the price of a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 this year. It's 14% more expensive than the same meal last year.
VANEK SMITH: That's really high. That's a lot. That's a big jump.
NIGH: It's a sizable jump. But, of course, as an economist, I want to dig down into those figures.
VANEK SMITH: And, Darian, we wanted to dig into them, too.
WOODS: So yes, we got out our economics knives and forks.
VANEK SMITH: Yes, we did, literally. And we asked each member of Team INDICATOR to look into the price of one ingredient, see how it had changed
WOODS: An Indicators-giving (ph).
JULIA RITCHEY, BYLINE: I'm not the biggest cranberry fan.
WOODS: Producer Julia Ritchey bought fresh cranberries.
RITCHEY: This year, they're $2.98, So that is a price increase of about 10%, almost 11%, really.
VANEK SMITH: So cranberries cost about 11% more than last year, and the CEO of Ocean Spray apparently started making the rounds on the media to try to do some damage control.
RITCHEY: He actually describes this as the Super Bowl for cranberries.
WOODS: So according to him, prices for cranberries are up because of the rising costs of labor and packaging.
RITCHEY: And he's like, there's not enough truck drivers to deliver the cranberries, and also the cost of plastic, which is what the fresh cranberries are in.
RITCHEY: Next up, our senior producer Viet Le. He came with his favorite Thanksgiving item - 12 packaged dinner rolls.
VIET LE, BYLINE: Bread products are probably my favorite part of Thanksgiving because I hate turkey and cranberry sauce, so this is perfect for me, absolutely perfect. So in 2020, they were $2.66. In 2021, they were $3.05, which is a percent change of 14.5%.
VANEK SMITH: That's like double-digit inflation. That's major.
LE: Well, I do - as I said, I love rolls, so I'm willing to pay for it.
WOODS: A lot of time and labor goes into making rolls, so rising wages and the hiring squeeze in the U.S., that's probably pushing up the price of rolls.
VANEK SMITH: Our intern, Taylor Washington, tackled veggies.
TAYLOR WASHINGTON, BYLINE: So last year, green beans cost $1.50, and this year, they cost $1.58, so that's a 5.3% increase.
VANEK SMITH: Do we know why they got more expensive or...
WASHINGTON: Yeah, I don't know what's going on with the green bean market. Was I supposed to have green bean banter? Like, I didn't have green bean banter.
VANEK SMITH: That's a tall order, Taylor. No. Green bean banter - never underestimate the market power of green bean banter. Our producer, Brittany Cronin, brought dessert, which was actually three ingredients.
VANEK SMITH: So first is the pie shell, which I paid 2.91 for, which is up 20% from last year.
WOODS: Pie shells - they're a lot like bread rolls. There's a lot of labor and packaging, so the price jumped a lot.
VANEK SMITH: Whipped cream? Nope, didn't move that much, price only rose by a couple of percent. The pumpkin filling also got pricier, about 7%.
BRITTANY CRONIN, BYLINE: And I would like to say that my pie was, like, three ingredients plus pie assembly. So I would like to throw in the cost of my labor to this as well.
VANEK SMITH: Yes, which is probably rising quickly, right?
CRONIN: Definitely, yes.
VANEK SMITH: Kate, you have like the main event of Thanksgiving.
KATE CONCANNON, BYLINE: Correct.
WOODS: This is our editor, Kate Concannon. She looked into the price of a 16-pound turkey.
CONCANNON: Last year, a Turkey cost $19.39. This year, it costs $23.99, so that's about 23%.
VANEK SMITH: The price of a 16-pound turkey went up by 23%. That is a huge jump.
WOODS: And part of this has to do with last year. So remember, nobody traveled. Demand for Turkey was extremely low. Farmers reacted this year by raising fewer birds, and so when the demand shot up, there weren't as many turkeys to go around this year.
VANEK SMITH: And then rumors started circulating about a turkey shortage, so people started buying their turkeys really early, which created an actual mini turkey shortage, which pushed prices up. In fact, Kate herself had a hard time finding the pre-cooked turkeys that she always orders.
CONCANNON: And I actually had to use the old-fashioned phone. I was calling all these people, pleading with them. You've got to have just like one little turkey left. And there was a very brief moment, Stacey, when I was worried that I was not going to be giving my boys turkey this year. And that would have been pandemonium if there had been no turkey.
WOODS: Turkey pandemonium was avoided. But economist Veronica Nigh says that this happened all over the country in the turkey market. So there was this uncertainty about whether people were going to host large Thanksgivings this year and invest in a big bird.
VANEK SMITH: And, of course, that disrupted the supply chain and the finely-honed science of holiday promotions and markdowns. And Veronica said that and a bunch of other things have prices just jumping around way more than usual. So that is our Farm Bureau Thanksgiving meal. But, of course, Darian, and this would not be a public radio Thanksgiving without some good old-fashioned dietary restrictions.
WOODS: That is correct.
VANEK SMITH: And as our resident vegetarian, we asked you to venture outside of the Farm Bureau's Thanksgiving index and into the dark and tangled land of Tofurky.
WOODS: So I went to the supermarket, and I bought not a roast turkey, but a plant-based celebration roast.
VANEK SMITH: That's it?
WOODS: Can you see how beautiful that looks?
VANEK SMITH: It's...
RITCHEY: What shape is that?
VANEK SMITH: It's like a puck or...
WOODS: This is our low carbon future, everybody.
VANEK SMITH: OK.
So the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis actually researched Tofurky vs. turkey. And now, in the last year, soybean prices have jumped a lot, almost 50%. But Tofurky - still very cost effective.
WOODS: Yeah. So the average global cost of poultry is about six times higher than the price of soybeans. So there's a lot to celebrate about the celebration loaf.
VANEK SMITH: Yes, there is. Also, Veronica Nigh, our Farm Bureau economist, points out that even this pretty expensive Thanksgiving is quite affordable.
NIGH: The total cost for a family of 10 for this Thanksgiving dinner is still less than $6 per person, so it's still an incredibly affordable meal.
RITCHEY: Now we're going to tell each other what we're thankful for. I do this every year to my family, and they hate it.
WOODS: It's that time of year.
WASHINGTON: Yeah, my mom tried to make us do that one time. And, like, the vibe, just, like, died. Everybody was like...
WASHINGTON: It got so awkward.
VANEK SMITH: I love it.
This episode of THE INDICATOR was produced by Julia Ritchey with help from Gilly Moon. It was fact-checked by Taylor Washington. Our senior producer is Viet Le. Our editor is Kate Concannon. And THE INDICATOR is a production of NPR.
WOODS: Happy Thanksgiving.
WASHINGTON: Happy Thanksgiving.
RITCHEY: Happy Thanksgiving.
CONCANNON: Happy Thanksgiving.
LE: Happy Thanksgiving.
CRONIN: Happy Thanksgiving.
VANEK SMITH: Happy Thanksgiving from THE INDICATOR.
Also, we would like to know what your favorite INDICATOR episode of the year was. Send us an email - firstname.lastname@example.org with favorite episode in the subject line, or you can tweet us @theindicator. Whichever episode wins, we will play it with a little update.
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