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'BBQ Index' breaks down 4th of July cookout costs

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The Fourth of July cookout that cost $51.90 in 2004 will cost American consumers $66.82 this year.

That's according to the so-called "BBQ Index" put together by Rabobank. The index calculates the cost of the ingredients in your cookout, with the totals providing a snapshot view of how commodity prices shape the cost of backyard fun.

The BBQ Index assumes 10 adults will attend your cookout, and that each will down the following: a grilled chicken sandwich, a cheeseburger, chips, a few beers, a can of soda and a couple scoops of ice cream. The index tracks the price of everything on the picnic table, from the main dishes to the sandwich toppings, beverages and dessert. (See the shopping list at right.)

BBQ Index shopping list

  • Lettuce – $.99: 1% of total barbecue
  • Tomatoes – $1.95: 3%
  • Cheese – $2.90: 4%
  • Bread – $2.80: 4%
  • Soda – $3.58: 5%
  • Pickles – $3.51: 6%
  • Chips – $4.37: 7%
  • Chicken – $8.62: 13%
  • Beef – $9.64: 14%
  • Ice Cream – $9.82: 15%
  • Beer – $18.59: 28%

Total Volumes

  • Chips – 16 oz (5 handfuls per person)
  • Pickle – 24 oz (1 pickle per person)
  • Soda – 120 oz (1 can of soda per person)
  • Tomatoes – 1.2 lbs (2 slices per person)
  • Cheese – 2 lbs (2-3 slices per person)
  • Bread – 2.4 lbs (2 buns per person)
  • Beef – 2.5 lbs (1 quarter pound burger per person)
  • Chicken –2.5 lbs (1 chicken sandwich per person)
  • Ice Cream – 1/2 gal (1-2 bowls per person)
  • Lettuce – 1 lb (1-2 leaves per person)
  • Beer – 24 oz (2, 12 oz per person)

The cost of the meat will eat up one-quarter of the meal's budget. While chicken prices have held steady, beef prices are rising because of a reduction in cattle herds brought on by drought in the Great Plains states.

"The beef market has exploded this year and retail ground beef prices, the heart and soul of the American barbecue, are up an astonishing 71 percent over the last five years. We think there will be more pluck than chuck this year as some consumers lean to chicken sandwiches over burgers," said Bill Cordingley, Head of Rabobank's Food and Agribusiness Research.

The cheapest part of the menu is the buns for the burgers; bread prices are down 1 percent over the past five years. Chip prices are also down 3 percent year-over-year because more consumers prefer lower-fat snacks. Cheese and ice cream prices have jumped 15 percent in the past five years. The drought in Mexico pushed up the price of tomatoes by 12 percent compared to last year, but the price for other vegetables that would top a sandwich remain steady.

Soda prices increased 4 percent over the last five years, but the cost of beer has risen more steeply. The index price for 20 beers shows an increase of 10 percent as the popularity of more expensive craft beers pushes domestic and premium prices upward.

"The two weeks leading up to holidays like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July are some of the biggest in beer sales, regardless of price," said a Rabobank beverage analyst.

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