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What makes Super Bowl parties so expensive — and where you can save

Maybe it’s the commercials or the halftime show or to catch a glimpse of Taylor Swift. Perhaps it’s even about the biggest football game of the year. Whatever your reason for hosting a Super Bowl party, it’ll cost you.

Americans will spend a projected $17.3 billion to eat, drink and cheer their way through Sunday’s NFL championship between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s $86 a person to fill up on wings in tangy buffalo sauce, chips with creamy queso, lots of beer and so much more. It’s also a 4.8 percent spike from the $16.5 billion spent last year and a snapshot of the sticker shock people still find in the grocery aisle even as inflation overall has cooled.

(Subin Yang for The Washington Post)

Once higher, food prices “tend to be very sticky,” said Scott Brown, an agriculture economist at the University of Missouri. They’re vulnerable to multiple factors, including supply chain disruptions, climate change, higher fuel, labor and packaging costs and ripple effects from the Russia-Ukraine war.

But in the last year consumers caught breaks in such categories as technology — think flat-screen TVs and sound bars — and some foods such as poultry.

So, before locking in your game day shopping list, here’s what to expect:

Chicken wings

Get those wet wipes ready because chicken wings are cheaper this year; the average pack is down about $2 from 2023 and $4 since 2022, according to NIQ. The cost of feed (made of corn and soybeans — more on that later) soared in 2022, and chicken farmers cut production as a “response to financial losses,” said David Anderson, a livestock economist at Texas A&M University.

Chili

Some love ’em, some hate ’em, but for many (and our recipes team), beans are integral to a hearty chili. Droughts in Minnesota and North Dakota slashed yields for dry edible beans in 2021, which led to higher canned and dry bean prices the following year. Prices eased this fall, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but haven’t returned to pre-2022 levels.

Sliders

These one-handed bites are perfect for game day but come at a premium: Ground beef costs surged 6.7 percent in December compared with 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Extreme weather is again at play — since mid-2020, droughts from the northern Plains, across cattle country and into southern states have left ranchers with “not enough hay and forage to maintain the beef cattle herd,” Brown said. U.S. beef production fell by 1.2 billion pounds, or 4.6 percent, from 2022 to 2023, he noted, and the USDA forecasts declines will continue this year.

Vegetables

While a veggie tray from your local grocer will save you time, it’ll probably run you more than doing the slicing and dicing yourself because of labor and packaging costs, said Rob Dongoski, global lead for food and agribusiness at consulting firm Kearney. Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine spawned restrictions on the global fertilizer trade, sending prices near record highs in 2022 and causing the cost of carrots, broccoli and celery to tick up. But vegetable prices are finally easing — down 4.8 percent in December, year over year, according to CPI data — as other countries boosted exports.

Guacamole

The crucial ingredient for this game-day staple is heavily reliant on Mexico, which grows most of the avocados sold in the United States, Anderson said. But the ongoing debate about border security and immigration policy has had implications for trade. The shuttering of railroad crossings in El Paso and Eagle Pass, Tex., in December, for example, stranded hundreds of millions of dollars in freight. “Every time we talk about trade disruptions … we’ll see it the quickest in the produce section,” Anderson said. Other guacamole ingredients such as tomatoes, which are mainly imported from Mexico and Canada, are also affected by trade relations.

Queso

The name says it all — cheese is the star of this indulgent dip, and prices are down relative to last year. Milk production, which dictates the cost of cheese, has fallen because Americans are drinking less of it, Anderson said. “We are seeing some effects in lower prices at retail because we have such low prices at the farm,” he said.

Salsa

We know tomatoes are usually the star ingredient of salsa, but for the sake of not repeating ourselves here, let’s assume you’re stepping it up and making a corn salsa. Corn is incredibly versatile — it’s in everything from biofuel to food for humans and livestock (remember the chickens?). A drought in Brazil — one of the U.S.’s biggest competitors for corn exports — sent prices up in 2021, prompting some trading partners to turn to the United States to fill the vacuum. It became a classic supply-and-demand scenario, Anderson said. Prices dropped last year, but could surge again, as analysts predict another dry year in Brazil.

Chips

It doesn’t matter whether you prefer tortilla or potato chips, the cost of snacks is climbing. The average 16-ounce bag of potato chips is up $2 since the start of the pandemic, federal data shows. While some of the increase is tied to ingredient costs, company executives and industry experts say fuel, labor and packaging are the biggest drivers. But consumers are still buying, leaving little incentive for snack conglomerates to lower prices. Salty snack sales, an already high-volume category, swelled more than 14 percent in the week leading to last year’s Super Bowl, according to Circana.

Drinks

When it comes to your suds and soda, transportation and packaging take the biggest swigs. “Beverages are very, very expensive to transport because they’re so heavy and they’re so bulky,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of the analytics company GlobalData. “So if fuel prices are elevated, it causes an issue.” The industry is also grappling with a trucker shortage tied to working conditions and low pay. Meanwhile, the price of aluminum — the primary material in cans — hit record highs in March 2022, government data shows, as the war in Ukraine ramped up. In early February, the average six-pack of domestic beer ran $9.84, up 3.5 percent from the same period last year, according to retail data provider Datasembly. Imported beer added 2.3 percent, to $11.07.

TV

The bigger the TV, the better the football-watching experience. During the early days of the pandemic, as consumers were stuck at home, many splurged on new entertainment systems. But supply chain logjams in 2021 left retailers less able to meet demand, leading to higher prices, Saunders said. TV prices surged 30 percent on average, according to Circana, to $469. But in 2022, retailers over-ordered and consumers pulled back on discretionary spending. Since then there have been “sharp discounts and some better prices,” he said. The average cost of a TV was $385 last year, down 11.7 percent from 2022.

Streaming

If you’re a cord-cutter without traditional access to CBS, the network carrying the game, you may be considering a subscription to a streaming service. The cost of cable, satellite and live-streaming services climbed 5.6 percent in December, according to CPI’s year-over-year data. The basic YouTube TV package increased $8, to $72.99 a month, and Hulu with ads and live TV climbed $7, to $76.99 per month. The stand-alone options, like base-tier Paramount Plus and NFL Plus, increased a dollar or two to $5.99 and $6.99, respectively.

Kitchen supplies

For many hosts, Super Bowl Sunday is a reason to upgrade or purchase some new gadgets. “There’s a huge spike in sales of things associated with entertaining right around the Super Bowl,” said Joan Driggs, vice president of thought leadership at Circana, a market research firm. In the weeks leading up to last year’s Super Bowl, sales for meat grinders and mincers surged 143 percent compared to an average week, and slow cookers increased 37 percent. Prices for small appliances inched up during the pandemic, as consumers sought to enhance their at-home cooking experience, Saunders noted. And the category continues to hold their attention. Products that go viral on social media can be especially persuasive in moving people to go out and buy the newest air fryer to make their game day treats, he said.

Paper goods

Football-themed napkins and cups, plastic forks, and paper plates in team colors are popular this time of year, Driggs said: “People are trying to create an experience.” Costs have crept up in recent years because commodities like wood pulp — which is used to make paper products — hit record highs in 2022. Several factors were at play, including increased demand for packaging materials due to e-commerce and reduced output from U.S. and Chinese paper mills. As a result, paper napkin prices rose 19 percent from 2022 to 2023, according to NIQ, while disposable plates jumped 27 percent.

Football apparel

Whether you’re a 49er faithful or a member of Chiefs Kingdom, jerseys, T-shirts, hats and other apparel emblazoned with your favorite team’s logo tend to be more “insulated” than other sectors of apparel, Saunders said. “There’s very strong demand, especially for popular teams.” But that doesn’t mean they’re cheap — official jerseys from the NFL Shop cost $150. Driggs noted that sales revenue of NFL-licensed apparel for the teams going to the Super Bowl last year spiked 200 percent. (And that was before Swifties became enamored with the Travis Kelce overnight.)

Now that you know the price tag of being the consummate host, you may be questioning those invites. But there are some obvious alternatives: Order pizza, go to a bar … or go to someone else’s party.

About this story

Illustration by Subin Yang for The Washington Post. Editing by Karly Domb Sadof, Robbie Olivas DiMesio and Betty Chavarria.


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