This Thanksgiving, the focus isn't on turkey, it's on prices

— -- Could this Thanksgiving turn out to be a turkey for consumers and retailers?

In the midst of the worst holiday economy in decades, foodmakers and grocers find themselves offering special deals at a time of year when they're more accustomed to doing the turkey trot for profits.

Butterball is watching for turkey poaching by cheaper private labels. Ocean Spray is rolling back cranberry sauce prices. Giant Food, in some states, is giving away free turkeys to its best customers.

One thing's for sure: Many folks will find ways to trim costs, if not calories. Some are using coupons. Some are asking every guest to bring a dish. And a growing number of restaurant diners plan to eat at home this year, says Harry Balzer, food guru at NPD Group. But, he adds, most of the Thanksgiving dinner cutbacks will not be very visible.

One thing, Balzer says, will be more visible: more guests at other people's tables. "The easiest way to economize this Thanksgiving: Don't cook."

Other Turkey Day maneuvers:

•Shopping private label. Butterball, the nation's largest turkey producer, expects sales to hold steady — but executives recognize some folks will trade down for store-brand turkeys that cost about 20 cents less per pound. "That's the decision the consumer has to make: Do I go to something that I'm not accustomed to in order to save $3?" asks Bill Klump, marketing chief at Butterball.

•Lowering prices. Ocean Spray, the largest seller of cranberry sauce, is battling private labels with a price of about 99 cents, on cans that sell for about $1.39 the rest of the year.

"We're having a record year," says Ken Romanzi, COO at Ocean Spray.

To boost sales of fresh cranberries, he says, Ocean Spray is offering an instant $1 off coupon for fresh cranberries on its cranberry juice bottles.

•Doling out turkeys. Shoppers who buy $300 in groceries from Oct. 12 through Nov. 15 get free turkeys at Giant Food stores in Pennsylvania. Interest is high, spokeswoman Tracy Pawelski says.

•Using coupons. About 30% of shoppers say they'll use coupons this Thanksgiving to save, says a recent survey of shoppers by TrendSight Group. "We expect that number to rise significantly the closer we get to Thanksgiving," says Marti Barletta, TrendSight founder.

•Bypassing restaurants. With fewer planning to eat out, Balzer says, "You don't want to be in the restaurant business if this is your big day."