Talkin' Turkey

By Lynn Petrak
Special Projects Editor
The industry moves beyond the whole bird to deliver innovative cuts and a strong dietary message.
When it comes to current consumption patterns, the poultry industry would like Americans to go cold turkey. Or hot turkey, for that matter.
Although turkey processors spent years on merchandising their product as an everyday protein, intensity made the difference resulting in a slew of new products and promotions. “The industry as a whole is working hard to get consumers to realize that turkey is more than just a lunchtime option and a [seasonal] family feast,” says Sherrie Rosenblatt, senior director of marketing and communications for the Washington, DC-based National Turkey Federation (NTF).
There is certainly room for growth. Per capita turkey consumption figures remained stable but flat for years, hovering around the 17-pound mark, relays data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Another study, a grocery scanner sales report from FreshLook Marketing Group, Hoffman Estates, IL, shows dollar sales for fresh turkey meat increasing slightly less than 1 percent from 2003 to 2004.
Creating excitement
Turkey processors generate excitement in the category through new product development and marketing strategies. “Especially in the retail case, you have begun to see a lot of value-added, convenient products that are making it easier for consumers to get it on the table,” notes Rosenblatt, citing innovations from major brands as well as mid-sized companies.
Cargill Meat Solutions, based in Wichita, KS, has been busy on the research and development front for its Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms turkey businesses. This month, it launches a new line of fully cooked turkey entrées, including turkey breast tips and gravy, fully cooked turkey chili, and fully cooked hickory-smoked barbecue turkey.
“We’re definitely doing value-added cuts. As more consumers learn about the benefits you get with turkey, consumers have learned to incorporate turkey into their everyday meals,” reports case-ready manager Lorena Hull.
Meanwhile, St. Henry, OH-based Cooper Farms Processing has created new ready-to-cook stuffed turkey breast roasts, ready-to-cook turkey breast steaks, fully cooked gourmet turkey burgers, fully cooked turkey taco filling, and fully cooked turkey medallions. 
“Most recently, we have taken value-added to a completely different level with offerings of fully cooked, ready-to-cook, and portion controlled great-tasting turkey products made from whole muscle meats,” says Roger Wellman, director of sales.
Turkey marketing efforts, too, have grown more sophisticated. NTF’s $3 million “The Perfect Protein” campaign, which kicked off in June, includes print advertising in select publications and expanded recipes available through the Web site
High-protein, low-carb
Many processors are tying into the high-protein, low-carb message. “Our upcoming fall quarter promotion will have the ‘Turkey, the Perfect Protein’ logo throughout our integrated campaign,” relates Hull. “And since the beginning of this year, we’ve been communicating turkey’s inherent benefits of being the highest in protein, lowest in saturated fat and calories.”
Rosenblatt expects a payoff from cooperative programs. “This is a committed marketing committee that has created this [campaign],” she points out. “My sense is that they are very competitive but understand the importance of collaboration.”