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Thanksgiving may cost less locally
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MONROE - Area residents could spend a little less than the rest of the country on a Thanksgiving meal this year, according to an informal survey of local food prices.

The American Farm Bureau Federation's 24th annual informal price survey of traditional items found on the Thanksgiving day dinner table indicates the average cost of this year's feast is $42.91, a 4 percent drop from 2008 when shoppers spent an average of $44.61, or $1.70 more.

A survey of Monroe stores Friday, showed local shoppers could pay less than the national average, about $33.57.

The menu doesn't include a few items some might consider turkey day staples including, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, Jell-O salads, more than one pie, ice cream, cheese, soft drinks, or the occasional bottle of beer.

The AFBF survey shopping list includes turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, coffee and milk.

The federation's costs included only $2.50 for miscellaneous items, like brown sugar, butter and marshmallows for the sweet potatoes; two cans of evaporated milk, six eggs, sugar and spices for pumpkin pies; onions and herbs for the stuffing; and coffee.

In Monroe, evaporated milk will use up much of the extra $2.50.

Whole milk was the largest contributor to the overall decrease in the national cost of the 2009 feast, dropping $.92 to $2.86 per gallon.

In Monroe, whole milk was selling at $2.74. Two percent milk was at $2.49 per gallon, up from $1.91 in 2008.

A half pint of whipping cream, at $1.55, is down 15 cents nationally, while store specials in Monroe put the price of cream at 79 cents.

Local shoppers will also save more on the dinner's centerpiece - turkey.

The federation's survey shows turkey selling at $1.16 per pound, 3 cents less per pound that 2008. But local stores are selling turkey at 88 to 99 cents per pound, saving Monroe shoppers over $3.50 for a 16-pound turkey, and even more if they use in-store specials and coupons.

Items that increased in price nationally this year - just slightly less than 5 percent - were cubed bread stuffing, frozen nine-inch pie shells and canned pumpkin.

Two items, frozen green peas and fresh sweet potatoes, stayed the same in price at $1.58 for one pound and $3.12 for three pounds, respectively, the survey said. Again, Monroe stores were cheaper at $1.12 for peas per pound, while three pounds of sweet potatoes is $1.92.

Fresh cranberries are five cents less nationally than in 2008. In Monroe, they are 16 cents less than the national average.

Jim Sartwelle, an AFBF economist, said consumers are benefiting at the grocery store from significantly lower energy prices and the effects of the economic slowdown.

"Again this year, the cost per person for this special meal is less than a typical 'value meal' at a fast-food outlet," he said.

Sartwelle said despite retail price increases during the last year or so, American consumers have enjoyed relatively stable food costs over the years, particularly when adjusted for inflation.

The AFBF survey was first conducted in 1986, when the dinner cost $28.74.