KANSAS CITY, Mo. – As far back as I can remember, I have always loved this time of the year when our family would enjoy whole, roasted turkey and all the trimmings. But much has changed regarding food choices since I was a kid. Decades ago, turkey in the United States was primarily consumed at home in slices cut from a roasted whole bird during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Today, an expanding variety of value-added products from this noble bird is increasingly available and enjoyed by millions of consumers and diners throughout the year. 


 Bryan Salvage

But whole turkeys still rule in my mind. Being curious about how major whole-turkey processors prepared for this holiday-season crush, I contacted Garner, NC-based Butterball LLC, the largest vertically integrated producer of turkey products in the US, which produces 1 billion-plus lbs. of turkey per year. I spoke with Joe Nalley, Butterball COO, before Thanksgiving to learn how his company ramped up for peak turkey season this year.

Butterball whole turkey remains the hallmark of its business and Thanksgiving is Butterball’s peak season for whole turkeys. Gearing up for peak season each year gets the adrenalin pumping amongst the Butterball production team. While Butterball operates six processing plants, only two — the Huntsville and Ozark, Ark. facilities — produce whole turkeys; the remainder of its plants create further-processed products, like turkey burgers, bacon, sausage and deli meat.

“If someone eats a Butterball whole turkey on Thanksgiving, it came straight from the great state of Arkansas,” Nalley boasted. “Our employees understand and look forward to the approximately 50 days spanning much of October, November and some of December, where we run our whole-turkey plants seven days per week to make sure everyone can have a Butterball turkey to enjoy with their families over the holidays. We have a great team of associates who take pride in producing delicious products for consumers.”

Although Butterball produces Butterball whole turkeys year-round to meet consumer and customer demand, the company had already begun planning for 2015 production on Black Friday 2014.

Butterball is fully integrated and works with family farmers to raise essentially 100 percent of its own turkeys. Whether they become frozen or fresh turkeys, birds are not sourced any differently. “Although, we do use our larger 40-50 lb. turkeys for further-processed product since most consumers do not have ability to put a turkey that large in an oven,” Nalley says. “Frozen turkeys are processed well in advance of the holiday season.”

Working as a team, Butterball production plant managers are in constant communication with one another. “We make it a point to share best practices with each other so that we are increasing our efficiencies while ensuring we produce delicious, high-quality products that consumers and customers are proud to serve,” he added.

But as everyone in this industry knows so well, whole turkey isn’t all Butterball produces. For more information on Butterball production, its value-added products and turkey trends fueling the business, read “Turkey processing for the holidays” exclusively in the December issue of Meat&Poultry magazine.