Turkey Steps Up to the Plate

Customers say they're ready for turkey, but do you have it?

Research by the National Turkey Federation reveals that people would order turkey if menus offered more choices. A whopping 77% of respondents in the 2005 survey who said they don't order turkey said they would if it were just on the menu.

The survey results were enough to convince Jack Civa, director of foodservice marketing for Carolina Turkey, to hire a director of innovation and take a fresh look at turkey as a source of ideas. "We're currently in the middle of a muscle profiling project, dissecting the bird and trying to figure out 'chef's cuts' we can take out from muscles we haven't used before."

Turkey is already seen as a healthy comfort food. Civa's challenge is to make it trendy and convenient as well. Working with restaurant chefs, Carolina Turkey is nearly ready to debut a package of fully cooked turkey thigh lobes in a Hispanic-style marinade. It can be heated in five minutes, then shredded and sauced much like carnitas. Or the kitchen can give the thighs a personal stamp with a slightly different prep. "Operators want to feel that when they serve a product, it has the look and taste of turkey that's cooked fresh in the back of the house," Civa says.

Carolina Turkey, Perdue and Jennie-O already offer some products to help operators get out of their turkey rut. The turkey mignon, a bacon-wrapped whole muscle breast section, and turkey breast medallions are making inroads as elegant entrees. Turkey burgers and value-added products with on-target flavors (along the lines of their chicken cousins) are also winning menu real estate. These include oven-roasted breasts with honey, maple, Buffalo, Cajun and smoked hickory and mesquite infusions. Turkey breast products rubbed and crusted with various ingredients are another trend; cornmeal, garlic pesto, sun-dried tomato and cracked peppercorn are a few examples.