Thanksgiving and Christmas are big holidays for turkey companies, as consumers buy turkeys for big family meals, and supermarkets do a great job of getting their stores ready for the rush.

But in 2022, things are a little different for the category. Just like in the first two pandemic years, it looks like the category may take something of a hit.

Increased prices of turkeys—with some stores reporting upwards of 10 percent increases from 2021 this fall—has caused many consumers to look at smaller-sized turkeys, which could send the Thanksgiving holiday into a tizzy.

One large-chain supermarket, who preferred not to be disclosed, noted it’s expecting a very underperforming end of year in the turkey segment, which is historically the busiest time for sales. A spokesperson blamed high prices caused by supply chain issues and inflation, with more consumers pivoting to beef.

But the news is not all worrisome. Volume sales for value-added turkey have shown the largest two-year increase (pre- and post-pandemic) than any other meat category, according to FMI’s recent Power of Meat report.

Annie Hennen, senior account executive at Midan Marketing, noted consumers learned to cook at home during the pandemic, and now they want flavor and convenience, plus meals that will fit in well with their budgets.

“Value added meats fit consumers’ needs and bring many opportunities for the turkey category,” she said. “Turkey is a great canvas for different flavors, and the variety of value added options—from fajita strips and grinds to cutlets and roasts—puts turkey ahead of other proteins.”

During the pandemic, she added, consumers became more willing to experiment so turkey became more than simply a Thanksgiving entrée.

“Both value added and ground turkey grew in the turkey category throughout the pandemic,” Hennen said. “Now, as consumers encounter record-high inflation, the turkey category offers grocery shoppers many budget-friendly entrees. Larger birds can be repurposed into multiple meals, helping stretch family budgets even further.”

Therefore, there’s still plenty of opportunities for supermarkets to get the most out of their turkey offerings.

Christa Leupen, a spokesperson for Butterball, shared company data that shows 82 percent of shoppers are making food at home now compared to just 53 percent prior to COVID, and price points are a top consideration for consumers.

“Moving into the fall, we’ve seen inflation become a top concern with shoppers,” she said. “Specifically, for those planning to host Thanksgiving, 44 percent of hosts are concerned about

inflation, particularly rising grocery prices. We know there are three things they won’t compromise to save money on this Thanksgiving—celebrating, their guest list and having a turkey at the center of the table. Instead, they’ll look to economize in other ways like shopping for deals, preparing more from scratch or asking their guests to bring a side.”

Variety is vital

Many foodservice trends set the stage for retail trends, and turkey can be found on 14 percent of menus as a burger protein, according to IRI.

“Burgers are always popular, and now many consumers are turning to turkey burgers as a healthier alternative for a go-to favorite,” Hennen said. “With turkey sausages and ground turkey becoming increasingly popular as healthier, lower fat proteins, savvy retailers can offer value added, seasoned turkey items ready for at-home cooking.”

Nicole Behne, vice president of marketing at Jennie-O Turkey Store, a subsidiary of Hormel Foods, noted that different segments of the turkey category are doing well and variety is important.

“We are seeing that consumers are still wanting to add variety to their everyday meals,” she said. “They are looking for versatility and convenience, but still want to be sure the protein option is one their family members will approve. Today’s protein consumers are looking for inspiration for their everyday weeknight meals.”

For instance, when consumers are seeking value-added products for larger gatherings, When they are looking for value-added products for larger gatherings, our Jennie-O’s Oven Ready boneless turkey breast goes from freezer to oven in a cook-in bag, making it ultra-convenient.

“Our value-added products like Jennie-O ground turkey, or Jennie-O turkey burgers or turkey franks, are all about great taste and convenience,” Behne said. “Consumers can find thousands of recipes for inspiration on our social media platforms and website for easy weeknight turkey options.”

There are a lot of opportunities to highlight turkey outside of the holiday season, Leupen noted.

“Turkey provides a healthier alternative to beef or pork across all parts of the day from breakfast sausage to turkey burgers,” she said. “Butterball’s everyday marketing efforts focus on helping shoppers find ways to work turkey into their meals.”

She added that many consumers have experience in the kitchen, but report they have recipe fatigue looking for new ideas.

“At Butterball, we are always looking for ways for turkey to provide new inspiration for consumers who want add flavor and excitement to home cooking year-round,” Behne said. “Much of the category’s focus in recent years has been on flavors that push boundaries; however, consumers now report a strong preference for familiar flavors.”

The company’s strategy for development will continue to tout turkey as a flavorful base that can be of service to consumers. One example of this is a new breast roast that Butterball launched in 2021 during the holiday season and will be expanding as an everyday offering in 2023. It gives consumers a convenient turkey option that works great in the crock pot, on the grill or in the smoker, and which can be flavored in a variety of ways.

Attracting interest

There are many opportunities in the turkey category to capture grocery shopper interest and dedicate shelf space to the turkey category.

“To help grocery shoppers see turkey as more than an entrée only for the holidays, retailers can cross merchandise key ingredients and share recipes to encourage shoppers’ creativity,” Hennen said. “Additionally, the turkey category is often sought by health-conscious grocery shoppers. Showcasing health benefits, especially protein content, on the package is a valuable opportunity for the turkey category and entire meat case.”

In terms of marketing, Jennie-O has always taken an everyday approach to turkey and its messaging has centered on how turkey is perfect for the everyday protein occasions and doesn’t have to be reserved for holidays or special events.

“Our current campaign is our recently launched ‘Queen of Protein’ campaign to showcase the protein that reigns supreme — turkey,” Behne said. “The campaign personifies the fun that can accompany mealtimes—from celebrating daily life to special occasions—and encourages home cooks to win with turkey at every event from grilling to appetizers to meal prepping and more.”

Additionally, the campaign launch comes with updated packaging and new recipes, like curried turkey tacos and southwestern sliders.

So, even though marketing doesn’t seem as important in the fall when consumers already have turkey on the mind, it’s still as vital as ever this November to keep more customers—especially millennials and younger shoppers—to keep from exploring other options for the holidays.