This Thanksgiving, it looks like many consumers will come to the table grateful for food bargains, as marketers turn the spotlight on cheap eats.
It's noticeable at all food stores, even those targeting high-end shoppers: Whole Foods Market is trumpeting 10 great wines for the holiday, all at $15 or less.
But for those serving middle- to-lower-income families, there's a stronger-than-usual emphasis on value. Wal-Mart Stores, for example, is cutting prices on its groceries, as well as holiday gift items, and the Bentonville, Ark.-based company says it will have 12-pound turkeys on sale for less than $5 -- well below market prices.
Moreover, Wal-Mart will offer a menu plan that will serve a complete Thanksgiving meal for eight this year costing just $20. Last year, when the retailer was also focusing on bargain meals and America was still adapting to the concept of recessionary grocery shopping, Wal-Mart's suggested spread cost $35.
Luby's, a Houston, Tex.-based restaurant chain, is offering its complete Thanksgiving takeout packages for six people at $44.99. (In-restaurant Thanksgiving meals start at $11.99 per person.)
To a degree, experts say, some of that cost-emphasis is because grocery prices are lower than they were last year. "Overall, 2008 was the largest inflation year for food since 1990," says Ephraim Leibtag, an economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. "From September 2007 to September, 2008, grocery store prices rose 7.6%. Right now, grocery store prices are 2.5% lower than they were at this time a year ago."
The ERS reports that the average family of four spends $5,279 per year on groceries.
But as unemployment continues to gain, many are feeling even more anxious about the price of food this year. While some studies suggest that consumers want to spend more on food this holiday--a recent survey by Deloitte, for example, found consumers say they will an spend an average of $243 socializing away from home this holiday and $201 on at-home entertaining -- lower income shoppers are still struggling.
This week, the government announced the latest food stamp numbers, reporting that one in eight Americans now receive food stamps, an increase of 7 million people in the year-ago period.