Making America grill again: Cost of cookouts little changed this year

Burgers, dogs, condiments, chips – just some of the fixings for a traditional July Fourth cookout, which the American Farm Bureau says will cost about the same as it did last year. (Photo by Lauren/Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON – Feel free to splurge on the ice cream.

That’s the message from the American Farm Bureau Federation, which said in an annual survey that the cost of a Fourth of July cookout for 10 is just $5.28 per person this year – and still less than $6, even if you add the ice cream.

“All the items that you use for a Fourth of July cookout have seen their prices remain very affordable for consumers, so we haven’t seen the cost of the meal increase or decrease dramatically,” said John Newton, the Farm Bureau’s chief economist.

The results are even better in Arizona, where the state’s Farm Bureau did its own picnic basket survey. Taylor Rogers, outreach manager of the Arizona Farm Bureau, said that Arizonans can expect to pay $49.17 for the same picnic products for 10 people, compared to $52.80 in the national survey.

Newton said the cost for a Fourth of July cookout this year – which includes ribs, hot dogs, hamburgers, watermelon, condiments, sides and lemonade – totaled $52.80, according to the survey of prices by volunteer shoppers in 34 states. That’s just 11 cents higher than last year’s total for 10.

Prices have gone up by about the same 1 percent “year over year,” said Newton, who attributes that to a combination of depressed commodity prices and farmer efficiency.

“What we’ve seen across farm country is commodity prices, livestock prices have been low for a number of years now and what that’s ultimately translated into is cheaper prices for the consumer,” he said.

The biggest increase for this year’s cookout was in hamburger, which went up by 24 cents for the two pounds the bureau included in its survey, followed by 15 cents for watermelon.

Those were offset in part by falling costs for deli potato salad, pork spare ribs and American cheese.

“You see hamburger prices haven’t increased dramatically, neither have pork prices, so rib prices have been pretty stable,” Newton said.

It’s a slightly different story in Arizona, where Rogers said the bureau’s separate, quarterly market basket survey of food costs has shown a sharp increase in pork prices in the past year. Bacon rose from $4.39 per pound to $6.73 per pound this year, and higher prices have been seen in ham and other pork products.

“We can infer that the trade wars and swine flu have been the cause for the increase of pork prices,” Rogers said.

Newton said the rise in food prices has been in line with the consumer price index reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The latest report said overall consumer prices rose 1.8% from last May to this one, while costs for “at-home” food rose 1.2% in the same period.

The Farm Bureau’s Fourth of July survey looked at prices across the country for 2 pounds of ground round, 4 pounds of pork spare ribs, a pack of eight hot dogs, 3 pounds of potato salad, 28 ounces of baked beans, 2 quarts of lemonade, 15 ounces of corn chips, a whole watermelon, American cheese, buns and ketchup and mustard.

And if that’s not enough, the bureau added 1.5 quarts of vanilla ice cream to its basket for the first time this year. At $3.58, the ice cream would bring the cost of a cookout to $56.38, the survey said.

If that feels steep, Newton said it’s better than what you would pay to buy the same items online. That would push the bill above $70, Newton said, because “convenience costs.”

-Cronkite News video by Julian Paras