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Plus, one store on the list sells a 12lb turkey for just $9.79.

Zee Krstic
November 19, 2018

Earlier this month, the American Farm Bureau Federation released a report highlighting the average cost for a 10-person Thanksgiving dinner. They estimated an average cost based on a meal consisting of Thanksgiving staples: turkey, gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, peas, cranberry sauce, a vegetable tray for an appetizer, and coffee and pumpkin pie for dessert. The grand total for this meal should be around $48.90, which is lower than the five-year average.

Some expressed frustration about the estimate on social media, pointing to the differences in the products’ price and availability in urban, suburban, and rural markets. But the team at CNBC decided to put the federation's report to the test by actually heading to five different supermarket chains and shopping for a Thanksgiving dinner—and they found that one chain was, surprisingly, right on the money.

Megan Leonhardt, a money writer for CNBC, visited five different grocery stores in New York's metropolitan area: ACME (a subsidiary of Albertsons), Aldi, Trader Joe's, Walmart, and Whole Foods. To truly test the Farm Bureau's average, Leonhardt shopped for turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, ingredients for a green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and crescent rolls, as well as an apple pie and coffee for dessert. While the Farm Bureau's average accounted for 10 diners, Leonhardt shopped for eight, which may account for the urban price hike.

She purchased the same 22 items at each retailer, assuming that the average home cook would already have pantry staples like flour, oil, salt, and pepper on hand at home. You may not be surprised to hear that Whole Foods was the most expensive of the bunch—a total of $99.85, or $12.48 per person—but Leonhardt was able to purchase a free range, antibiotic-free turkey for just $2.59 per pound.

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Here's how other stores stacked up:

  1. Walmart: $45.18
  2. Aldi: $48.26
  3. ACME: $67.68
  4. Trader Joe's: $78.66

You may be surprised to see that Trader Joe's was outranked by ACME, a Northeastern chain that isn't known for affordable groceries. But as Leonhardt points out, Trader Joe's is full of prepared, heat-and-serve options for the holidays that are often greatly discounted (think: cornbread stuffing mix, bottled cranberry sauce, or caramel-cinnamon monkey bread).

If you're looking to cook as little as possible, Trader Joe's will have a great selection for you—but staple ingredients aren't always as affordable at Trader Joe's compared to local markets, and a 12lb turkey in the New York area clocked in at $1.99 per pound at TJ's (just over $25).

More tips for saving money at your favorite grocery store:

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Walmart came in as the cheapest option to find all your Thanksgiving essentials: Leonhardt had about $5 left in her budget to work with. CNBC reports that Walmart's prices for Thanksgiving staples were about 45 percent cheaper compared to those items at Whole Foods, and while the selection of diet-friendly and allergen-free food wasn't as expansive, Walmart's Great Value brand offers quite a few options for Thanksgiving dinner, without breaking the bank (like .50 cents for Great Value low-fat cream of mushroom soup for a classic casserole).