Supermarkets never need to worry about turkey sales during Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, but establishing turkey as a year-round staple can require some creativity. To help secure non-holiday sales, it’s important to highlight turkey as a versatile protein option.

After all, according to a recent report by Brandwatch, online search interest for the term “high protein” reached a five-year high in early 2023 and has remained high since.

“It is lean, high in protein, and pairs well with a multitude of flavors,” said Annie Hennen, senior account executive at Midan Marketing.

Recent Circana data indicates that the turkey category continues to be strong and even on the upswing. Over the last 52 weeks (ending 7/16) in the fresh meat category, total fresh turkey increased 5.4% in sales and continues to be a great value relative to many other protein options. Turkey is a lean, versatile protein that that can take on many different flavor profiles and be used as an alternative to other proteins in many recipes.

One of the biggest keys to establishing a year-round turkey business is offering a complete portfolio of turkey options, according to a spokesperson for Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods.

Additionally, innovation is important for the category’s success as it keeps things “fresh and exciting.”

“Consumers and operators also need to have tools such as recipe inspiration to allow them to explore the many ways turkey can be used, including it as the main feature or an ingredient in a dish,” the spokesperson said.

Being innovative

Though the holiday season is the most popular time for consumers to be thinking about turkey, there are a variety of ways retailers can highlight the versatility of this protein.

Rebecca Welch, director of brand management, retail and international for Garner, N.C.-based Butterball, noted the company has developed an extensive product portfolio that meets consumers’ needs throughout the day, from turkey bacon for breakfast to ground turkey as a perfect go-to for quick weeknight meals.

“New product development is also key for solving consumers’ pain points throughout the year,” she said. “We keep a pulse on the trends and deliver with new innovations like the all-natural, refrigerated Turkey Breast Roast. Butterball has seen breast meat options drive growth in the fresh turkey set over the past couple of years. The fresh roast brings gives health-oriented shoppers another fresh option for small gatherings and meal prepping.”

Turkey has seen strong growth in the value-add format, following the trend of other proteins. According to the 2023 Power of Meat study, two-thirds of consumers regularly purchase value-added meat or poultry. Turkey has seen its fair share of this demand — both in seasoned turkey items or paired with other products. In fact, since 2017, value-added turkey paired with hickory has grown more than 196.8%, paired with cheese more than 117.6% and Cajun more than 67.5%.

Grinds and sausages are great product opportunities for turkey, according to Hennen.

“Ground turkey, which has taken more of a mainstream role as a healthy and affordable alternative to red meat grinds, is a consistent option for year-round success,” she said.

Michelle Lieszkovszky, brand manager, new consumer solutions for Butterball, noted that today’s consumers are seeking convenience and simplicity more than ever before.

“A 2021 IRI Shopper Survey stated that 74% of consumers say a nice meal can be made without having to make everything from scratch,” she said. “Taking that into consideration, easy-to-make turkey products are desirable, especially when they can be combined with other ingredients to complete a delicious, quick meal.”

With this in mind, the Butterball innovation team designs product solutions to help time-strapped cooks experiencing recipe fatigue by providing inspiration and ease. For instance, this year the company launched Hearty Turkey Sausage, a fully cooked turkey link with the robust flavor, coarse texture and juicy snap of a traditional pork or beef sausage.

“The links are fully cooked, so a busy family can quickly heat and eat, either on a bun or sliced into a skillet or sheet pan recipes,” Lieszkovszky said. “Not only are the links easy to prepare, but also contain 70% less fat than traditional beef or pork sausage links. We knew this was important to consumers after a 2021 Attitude and Usage study with Ipsos found that among buyers of turkey products, 51% were buying dinner sausage.”

In that report, the primary reason households gave for buying turkey dinner sausage was because of its health benefits, and actively trying to reduce the amount of pork and beef from their diets.

“Turkey being under-represented in the fully cooked sausage category makes Hearty Turkey Sausage a win for consumers when it comes to convenience, health and versatility,” Lieszkovszky said.

A vital showcase

There are a lot of opportunities for stores to highlight turkey outside of the holiday season and the display level is one area that needs to be considered.

“Reminding consumers about the wide variety of turkey options available and helping consumers quickly pull together flavorful meals the entire family will like are great ways to delight shoppers with turkey,” Welch said. “We frequently hear from consumers that they want to see the turkey inside the package, therefore we are seeing a move to packaging that showcases as much of the product as possible.”

Butterball considered this trend when it developed the packaging for Butterball Hearty Turkey Sausage links. The links are packaged in fully clear shrink wrap with a premium box overlay, which allows consumers to see the full product and creates immediate appetite appeal.

Tyson Foods works closely with its R&D team members and culinary chefs to create flavor options for center-of-plate such as its Sara Lee Rotisserie Turkey Breast. The company also partners with the National Turkey Federation and the Iowa Turkey Federation to capture these on-trend flavors and develop products that are interesting and attractive to consumers.

“Partnership with our customers is key in sharing the potential for turkey in every area of the menu,” the Tyson spokesperson said. “You will see our portfolio of turkey products showcased in multiple places, including everything from sample stations at your local club stores to nationally competitive smoke competitions. These allow us to showcase turkey as an everyday protein option that deserves a place on every menu.”

He added that the company is focused on packaging that is fresh and clean to reflect the nutritious option that turkey provides for families.

“Having tear-away recipe options near the case is another great way to get consumers excited about the many different ways turkey can be prepared or serve as a substitute for traditional beef or pork options,” he said. “High visibility and showcasing simple, wholesome and quick at-home meal preparation options is key.”

Turkey deserves a seat right alongside the other center of plate protein options in the meat case. After all, turkey is a great alternative across all day parts for those looking to reduce red meat in their diets. From breakfast sausage to turkey burgers, turkey can be a base for consumers who want to add flavor and excitement to their home cooked meals.

Making connections

To assist its retail customers, Butterball recently launched a new marketing platform around “Today, we turkey” that taps into the emotional connection people have with the Butterball brand at the holiday and carries it through into everyday offerings.

“The catalyst for the new campaign was directly aligned with our company’s purpose — why Butterball exists in the world — which is to help people pass love on,” said Christa Leupen, director of purpose and consumer communications for Butterball. 

The “Today, we turkey” campaign has not only been successful in promoting the company’s wide array of everyday turkey products but has also resonated with the next generation of consumers, as they build an understanding of the Butterball brand, centered on enabling togetherness, caring and sharing. The campaign includes interactive streaming video, streaming audio and dynamic display ads, Leupen said.

This article is an excerpt from the September 2023 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. You can read the entire Turkey feature and more in the digital edition here.