Gary Cooper,  Cooper Farms
Gary Cooper heads up the National Turkey Federation’s 20 by 2020 initiative.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Considering it’s the day before Thanksgiving, it’s a good time to acknowledge the National Turkey Federation’s (NTF) 20 by 2020 program. The goal of the program is simply to increase turkey consumption among consumers to 20 lbs. by 2020. Per-capita consumption of turkey was 15.8 lbs. in 2014, down 0.2 lbs. from the previous year.

Gary Cooper, the chief operating officer for Cooper Farms in Van Wert, Ohio, is the brains behind the 20 by 2020 program. His family’s vertically owned turkey operation has been around since the late 1930s.

“I grew up in the business and have been in it for more than 40 years now,” Cooper says. “I lived through the 1970s and 1980s and the low fat craze when turkey consumption doubled from 8 lbs. to 16 lbs. in a decade. But it stayed at 16 lbs. for 20 more years.”

Cooper has been on NTF’s board of directors for about 10 years. In that time, the board has gone “in and out of” marketing turkey to consumers. When Cooper was nearing his chairmanship of the board in the fall of 2013, he developed a grassroots idea to promote turkey, something that wasn’t consumer-based. At the association’s annual meeting in early 2014, Cooper presented his idea and asked member companies to kick in $1.5 a year for the next three years to develop programs at the “influencer” level to increase turkey consumption. They raised the money.

One of the concepts is to increase turkey’s presence on restaurant menus.

“We want to increase every year – for the next five years – the number of times that turkey shows up on menus across the nation,” Cooper says. “If it’s not on the menu, you’re not going to order it.”

Another goal is to get turkey processors to promote different types of turkey in recipes versus traditional cuts.

“What we have found is that consumers along with chefs and registered dietitians view turkey as bland, dry and maybe a little boring. So let’s flavor it up,” Cooper says.

Another goal is to make turkey more prevalent in grocery stores.

Turkey consumption will be at its peak tomorrow. But Cooper is confident that per-capita consumption of turkey will soon be on the rise – 20 lbs. by 2020.