Whether barbecue or bahn mi, consumers are always on the lookout for the latest flavor or cuisine trend. Regardless of the type of food, turkey seems to find a way into the conversation.
“Turkey is a milder protein and thus lends itself quite nicely to various marinades, seasonings, rubs, brines, etc. We are seeing chefs really explore how to use the protein in interesting ways,” says Kimmon Williams, public relations manager with the National Turkey Federation.
Williams says that the NTF has seen a steady interest in sliced turkey for hot and cold turkey sandwiches, as well as momentum for ground turkey in both foodservice and retail clientele. However, the opportunities for turkey usage grow more diverse as consumer tastes evolve. Potstickers using ground turkey. Char Siu buns (Chinese steamed buns) using turkey tenderloin. Migas (a Spanish breakfast dish) that includes turkey chorizo sausage. There are numerous creative possibilities.
“It’s very exciting to see how all types of chefs are experimenting with flavor profiles and incorporating turkey on menus,” Williams says.
Consumers and chefs are also experimenting more with the entire bird, and not just the white meat. Tenderloins, thighs, wings, bacon, sausage and legs are also being utilized more often.
Koch’s Turkey Farm, a Tamaqua, Pa., processor, has expanded its existed product offerings and created entirely new product lines to keep up with the demand for its products. It features more than 50 products in fresh and frozen turkey, including whole turkeys, turkey breasts, thighs, drums and wings, ground turkey and turkey burger patties and sausage patties. A line of seasoned turkey fillets includes Korean Sesame, Honey Ginger, Ginger Teriyaki and Lemon Pepper.
Brock Stein, vice president – strategic development, reports that fresh turkey products remain top sellers for the company, but consumers are increasingly demanding further processed items.
“We have seen, like everyone, the demand for convenience, but we also cater to a discerning crowd who does not want to see convenience as a tradeoff for quality and wholesomeness,” says Stein.
Ground turkey has grown into a year-round offering for the company, rather than a summer grilling specialty. The company is continuing to capitalize on the summer months as a way to expand turkey to a perennial protein choice.
“Koch’s Turkey has put a big push behind expanding and marketing our product lines that focus on the grilling season,” he says.
Turkey companies in general are becoming more attuned to the needs of consumers, as far as packaging size and ease of preparation, Williams says. They have also been more proactive in creating the marinades, rubs, spices and flavors that complement turkey.
“They’re listening and responding expertly to the market, and we’re quite proud of their innovations and their successful initiative,” Williams notes.
Turkey is finding its place in the barbecue world as well, reports the NTF. Datassential research showed that BBQ turkey menu penetration has increased by 4 percent over the past year.
“Although, this may seem like minor menu penetration (at only 4%), this is how trends typically begin their journey through the menu trends cycle,” explains Williams, pointing to chains like Capriotti’s (a BBQ Turkey Salad) and Wedgy’s Pizza Delivery (BBQ Turkey Sub) as restaurants that have added it to their menus.
Consumers, like they do for every other protein, are showing more interest in the story of the animal as well as the quality of the meat. Koch’s Turkey Farm has sought out Certified Humane and Certified GMO-Free certification for some of its products.
“As a small, family-owned processor, we are always looking at ways to differentiate ourselves and offer our consumers the highest quality product. We found that there is a certain feeling amongst consumers that labeling has taken on so many forms, and they appreciate recognizable organizations such as Certified Humane and Non-GMO Project Verified,” explains Stein.
With farms in multiple regions, Koch’s works with independent farmers to ensure they are following the standards needed for such certifications.
“Maybe more importantly, we try to spend time giving the farmers the reasoning behind our choices to join programs like Certified Humane, and why that choice is beneficial for the farmers and consumers,” he adds.