While Ontario consumers are increasingly eating turkey all year round, the holiday season is still the peak window for the purchase of whole birds
By Jackie Clark
As families gather for the holidays, many of them will have a turkey as their festive protein of choice.
The festive season is “a market that we’ve owned for the last 40 or 50 years,” Brian Ricker, chair of Turkey Farmers of Ontario, told Farms.com. Due to the fluctuation in demand, some farmers produce seasonally, but most operations produce turkeys all year long.
“We have cold storage and so we deal with a lot of frozen product,” he explained. Frozen turkeys taste just as good as fresh, Ricker said. And “frozen turkey is easier to handle. You don’t have to buy it and keep it fresh until you want to cook it,” he said.
“Sometimes it’s tough to find enough fresh birds (for the holidays) because we only have so much processing (capacity) in Ontario,” Ricker added.
The turkey industry in the province has also observed a promising trend of increased turkey consumption during non-peak times and hopes it will continue.
“We’re getting along quite well on the production side,” Ricker said. “Our biggest challenge is just to get people to eat turkey all year long.”
The industry has invested in research and marketing to help promote turkey as a healthy protein choice any time of year.
“Ground turkey is lower in fat and lower in salt than other types of ground” meat, Ricker said.
“We’ve done research and we find that people enjoy turkey all year long. They just don’t necessarily think of buying it. So, we remind them to buy it and our processors have been cutting up smaller portions that are vacuum sealed that have freeze-before days of 21 days. So that’s been helping our consumption,” Ricker explained.
Since consumers don’t necessarily want a whole bird unless their hosting a big holiday dinner, they can buy “turkey thighs, turkey drumsticks (or) turkey breasts. Our processors are trying to diversify, in Ontario especially, to provide that kind of product – to make (turkey) a little more user-friendly for the smaller household,” he said.
Still, the festive season “is our big push for whole birds,” Ricker added. And weather around the holidays can affect the number of turkeys sold. When weather is unseasonably warm, consumers are less inclined to roast poultry.
“At Thanksgiving, it was kind of warm. If people are barbecuing, they don’t typically buy a whole bird for that,” Rickers said.
As a result, “our storage stocks of frozen turkeys are a little higher than normal. So, it would be very beneficial if people would just buy two turkeys and eat one now and eat one in January,” he said.
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