Talking Turkey: Poultry Producers Expand Product Lines to Meet Growing Demand for Specialty Meat Choices
As income levels rise, diets rich in protein are becoming increasingly popular worldwide. But it’s no longer enough for meat and poultry producers to offer great cuts of meat. More and more consumers want more flavorful protein options, delivered by more venues, with as little impact to the environment as possible.
The meat and poultry industry is responding to changes in consumer demand by expanding their product lines, offering leaner options that meet the consumer’s expectations.
Turkey is inherently one of the leanest meats available on the market today, and it’s becoming a more common choice for meals outside of lunch and the traditional holiday meal.
“People are used to eating turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and they are used to eating turkey at Subway and Jimmy John’s,” said Gary Cooper, owner and chief operating officer of Cooper Farms—one of the largest turkey processors in the country. “They’re not as used to eating turkey sausage at breakfast or eating a breaded turkey tenderloin, like turkey parmesan over linguini, for dinner.”
Recognizing the enormous opportunity to grow and expand this market, Cooper, who serves on the board for the National Turkey Federation (NTF), innovated a new program called 20 by 2020. The goal is simply to increase the consumption of turkey to 20 pounds per consumer, per year by 2020. Currently, the average American consumes about 16 pounds of turkey per year.
Cooper says there are three main ways the NTF intends to meet this goal: by increasing the amount of restaurants that offer turkey as a menu choice; by creating and promoting more versatile, flavorful recipes for turkey; and by making turkey more prevalent in grocery stores.
“We’re just trying to expand people’s viewpoints about how turkey can be used and we believe we’re making some good headway,” said Cooper.
Meat and poultry producers are also responding to consumer demand for “free from” protein options by eliminating what consumers don’t want in their meats—like antibiotics, nitrates and GMOs—and ensuring their product labels highlight this information. Cooper says his company goes one step further and offers up-close-and-personal looks at their meat processing facilities.
“The average person in America, unless they are directly involved in agriculture, is far removed the farming industry, so they’ve never gotten to see what’s going on at our farms,” said Cooper.
“So, we are trying to educate the consuming public that is interested in turkey about what’s really going on. We’re taking food bloggers out to our farms, taking them into the barns and saying, ‘Okay, here it is. What are your questions?’ That’s been very helpful.”
As consumer preferences for meat and poultry products continue to evolve, Cooper says he expects the industry will continue to diversify and meet these demands.
“Our company, in particular, has been really flexible in adapting to whatever a consumer group or customer wants,” he said. “It’s important as an industry we continue to do so.”
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