Christmas Feast

University of Wisconsin - River Falls

Dec. 5, 1997

Cost of Christmas Feast Changes Little From Last Year

By Maria Rohl-Franco
UW-RF News Bureau
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in America's Dairyland and this year, the Green Bay Packers aren't the only thing to cheer about.

Shoppers will be happy to find that prices for their holiday goodies are keeping pace with inflation and the cost for their holiday feasts won't be noticeably higher than last year, according to data collected by faculty at UW - River Falls College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences.

General retail prices are up only 2 percent over a year ago, as measured by the Consumer Price Index.

Although the percentages are up a little, according to agriculture economics Professor Gerald Nolte, "Food prices are very low relative to the average family's ability to produce wealth. Consumers, on average, spend only 11 percent of their disposable income on food, and just under 50 percent of that is for eating out. These fractional increases in food prices will be imperceptible to the typical family shopping for a large meal."

The retail price of beef is up about 2 percent. Professor Dean Henderson, chair of the UW-RF animal and food science department, notes that an example of where consumers will see the rise is in beef rib roast, which will average about $5.23 a pound this year in comparison to $5.09 a pound last year. Downward shifts in beef supplies may be raising cattle and retail beef prices but, according to information posted by the Economic Research Service housed at Cornell University, large and expanding supplies of competing meats will dampen the price increases.

Retail pork prices are steady with only a 1 cent increase showing in consumer prices for pork chops and other pork products.

There will be a larger supply of turkeys this year due to higher cold storage stocks and slightly higher production. This increased production and higher exports are keeping domestic consumption about 2 percent lower than last year. Retail prices will average the same as last year during the holiday marketing season.

Overall poultry prices are up a mere 0.5 percent. Poultry marketing activities are up a little from last year, putting a downward pressure of about 4 percent on farm prices, according to Nolte. But marketing firms coming off a period of low margins in the poultry and other food sectors have not yet created enough competitive pressure to pass the lower prices on to consumers.

Side dishes for the holiday feast are remaining level as well. Fresh fruits are up about 2 percent while processed fruits are up 1 percent.

Due to an plentiful crop of cranberries, consumers will pay 5 cents per pound less for Wisconsin's No. 1 fruit this season.

Fresh vegetables are up about 5 percent. Supplies of corn are abundant and prices are fairly stable in comparison to last year at this time when corn supplies were virtually exhausted across most of the country. The season-average price of corn is about $2.70 per bushel - a significant decrease from spring market prices which were well above $4.

Because of the constant fluctuation in the dairy industry, prices in this area are hard to pin down, says Ranee May, UW-RF dairy processing plant manager. Overall prices for dairy products are slightly lower than last year, but shoppers will pay about 25 cents more for butter during the holiday season due to families' increased baking of holiday cookies and cakes at this time of year.

Of course the holidays wouldn't be the same without the all-American Christmas tree. While all 50 states grow the traditional decoration, Wisconsin ranks third in tree production. This year, over 3 million trees were cut and will be sold to markets nationwide. About 350,000 of these will remain in the state to be sold locally.

Prices for real trees remain consistent with the past few years, ranging from $3.10 to $5.65 per foot, with an average height of about six feet.

The most popular species in Wisconsin is the balsam fir. Other top selling Christmas trees are Douglas-fir, Fraser fir, noble fir, Scotch pine, Virginia pine and white pine.

An estimated 30 million families will purchase real trees this year and, according to Professor Mike Kaltenberg of the plant and earth science department, there is a tree of excellent quality available in everyone's price range.

The price for the ever-popular Christmas decoration and gift, the poinsettia, will remain close to last year, ranging from $16.16 to $24.80 for a six-inch pot at retail florists this year.

Although popular for its top rank production of cranberries and Christmas trees, Wisconsin is known as America's Dairyland for a reason. The state ranks No. 1 in production of cheese, milk cows, and sweetened whole milk, as well as corn for silage, beets for canning, and snap beans for processing. Wisconsin is second only to California in milk production and butter and ranks No. 2 behind Minnesota in sweet corn and green peas for processing.

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