Former Butterball COO Joe Nalley spoke with The National Provisioner editor-in-chief Andy Hanacek as he retires after 46 years about a variety of topics in the industry. Watch all videos here. In the fifth part of the series, Nalley discusses how listening to consumers and expanding product options increased demand.

Andy Hanacek: Joe, thanks again for joining me. We talked a little bit about in another Q&A consumer demand and desire and quality and how you have to approach that. You weren’t on the consumer affairs or marketing side, but over 46 years, I’m sure you’ve seen a couple things and what not. From your perspective, what type of improvements in terms of the industry’s ability to listen to its consumers and bring them what they want and translate their voice into production quality products that they want.

Joe Nalley: One of the first things that comes to mind is the export market has always been big within the beef and the pork industry and also turkey and certainly chicken. I can remember doing business with Japan, particularly on the pork side, we were producing boneless loins. Later, I spent some time overseas and traveled to Japan quite a lot and did business there. We finally figured out that we needed to find out what they wanted and give them what they wanted instead of trying to convince them that what we had was really what they wanted. They were very discerning customers. They certainly were willing to pay premiums for the product if it met their requirements, so it was an opportunity to learn that you really have to listen to what your customer is saying. I won’t call it niche, because I guess it’s not niche, whether it is antibiotic-free, whether it is organic, natural, free-range, grass-fed, whatever you want to… this is all driven by consumers. This, I don’t think, is really driven by processors going out and saying here’s what you really want. You listen to them by getting out in the marketplace, being more transparent about what you are doing in your business. At one time, we kept everything behind closed doors. We didn’t share much of what was going on. It’s a much better proposition to invite consumers in to see what you are doing and see firsthand. And then there are various kinds of information available out there that you can subscribe to. You can do taste panels, you can do various kinds of surveys, but a branded company really has to stay tuned into what’s going on with the consumer.

Hanacek: What’s interesting is that Butterball is a good picture of the growth of turkey beyond Thanksgiving, and you’ve been a part of that. Maybe consumers weren’t demanding turkey burgers, but that demand built as Butterball and the turkey industry in general started making these products.

Nalley: It’s been an amazing trend. At Butterball, my most recent stop in my career, a few years ago we made no turkey burgers. Today we have three lines running full capacity and that’s not enough, so it really is interesting. In fact, that’s one of the reasons when I had the opportunity to join Butterball, I thought it would really be fun to take this branded business and expand it beyond just the Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey and see what all else you can do with it. It’s been a lot of fun. Turkey bacon is another huge growth factor. And other industries—beef, pork—have all seen the same thing.

Check out the rest of our video series with former Butterball COO Joe Nalley!