NEW ORLEANS -- The turkey industry must concentrate on more sophisticated, consumer-oriented marketing methods or it will perish in the wake of other meat providers, said an official of the National Turkey Federation.
"Marketing will shape the industry in 1996: the future will be bleak if the industry cannot market aggressively," said NTF Chairman Ken Rutledge, addressing the processor association's annual convention here.
Rutledge admonished members to keep turkey competitive, and to pay particular attention to continued expansion beyond its traditional place at the center of holiday meals.
"Of all the industry must do to meet its future, this is the one thing that must be done primarily by individual processors," Rutledge said.
"Thirty years ago when the turkey industry was much smaller, we had the luxury of relying on the holiday market and holiday season for most sales, and letting production factors determine marketing strategies," he noted.
"Later, during the boom years, we let our ability to turn out new products guide our marketing. And our ability or need to produce new products was determined in part by how many birds we could grow.
"Today, we have no such luxury. Turkey is firmly established as the fourth-largest protein source in the country, but there is a lot of ground between turkey and the No. 3, pork."
Rutledge went on to describe the inroads made by competing protein sources in comparison to turkey. "Red meat processors are producing leaner cuts, that are quicker and easier to prepare than red meat products of the past. Meanwhile the pace of new turkey product development has slowed, and it may be unrealistic to assume the pace will ever again be that of 10 or 15 years ago."
Both new and old products should receive equal attention, Rutledge advised. "We must continue to be aggressive in product development, but we also must search for ways to bring new life into existing product lines and to meet the resurgent challenge of our competitors," he said.
NTF will continue to play a large role in this effort, he said. "The industry has worked very hard during the last few years to determine the proper role for NTF in marketing our products to consumers. We undertook the exhaustive effort to develop a generic advertising campaign, and though the campaign ultimately was not used, its development provided valuable information for the industry's use.
"I have every confidence that NTF and its members will have a marketing partnership designed to take the industry and the federation into the 21st century."
He also said that government relations would be the federation's top priority in 1996, and cited successes such as its role in the recent fresh/frozen labeling debate, during which one senator, who was leaning against NTF's position, changed his mind based on the request of a single NTF member; as well as its potential in future conflicts over bills such as the industry legislation labeled Mega-reg.
"In the last decade we have seen increasing intervention of the federal government into industry activities. Congressional leaders are also considering getting involved in meat and poultry inspection reform, and if they do pass a bill, it could result in the most sweeping reform in inspection law in 85 years.
"Just this one activity, alone, requires the turkey industry to have a proactive, highly visible trade association."