Butterball Canada wants Canadians to gobble turkey in April and July, not just October and December. The brand has launched a new product line called Easy Fresh Turkey that includes bone-in and boneless breasts, boneless and bone-in thighs, as well as drumsticks and wings.
Tony Tavares, executive vice-president of Butterball parent Exceldor Foods, says the goal is to have Canadians regard turkey as an everyday food item. “Consumers [currently] look at it only as an option for a sandwich and two meal occasions, Christmas and Thanksgiving,” says Tavares. “That leaves a lot of meal occasions on the table.”
Canadians consumed approximately 154.4 million kilograms of turkey in 2016 according to the Turkey Farmers of Canada. The average Canadian consumed 4.3kg of turkey that year, compared with 32.5kg of chicken (an all-time high).
Tavares says that turkey consumption has been flat to declining in Canada for the past decade, based on a variety of factors: It’s not top-of-mind when consumers go grocery shopping; it has “very limited” availability because it’s not typically a big seller outside of holiday occasions; and most of the new immigrants driving Canada’s population growth are coming from countries where there is “very little” turkey consumption.
In addition, Tavares says that retailers have grown tired of treating turkey as a loss leader, leading them to pull back on price promotions in recent years. “For years the industry has relied on retailers losing a lot of money twice a year trying to blow out turkeys at 89 cents or 99 cents a pound,” says Tavares. “Retailers really didn’t like the product we were selling because they lost money on it.”
While chicken, beef and pork producers are all active from a marketing perspective, the turkey industry has generally been quiet around promoting its products and benefits, says Tavares. “If you’re relying on a customer buying it twice a year, it’s not the best business model,” he says.
Per kilogram prices for the Easy Fresh Turkey cuts are similar to their chicken counterparts, while the company is also using smaller turkeys (a dress weight of four kilograms and under) so that the cuts are similarly sized to chicken, rather than what Tavares calls “Neanderthal” sized drumsticks, thighs, etc.
Tavares says that Easy Fresh Turkey has broad-based consumer appeal, but the company is hoping to appeal to millennials attracted by turkey’s versatility and its reputation as a low-fat, healthy food.
Butterball is currently promoting new items to retailers, including turkey strips and a semi-boneless half turkey—“we think it would be a great summer item on the barbeque,” says Tavares. It is also launching a new line of products under Loblaws’ Free From line this summer.