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“You’ve got to know exactly what it is you’re getting and understand why you’re getting it. Someone who’s getting a 39-cent frozen Butterball from a chain market would not understand the heritage bird.”
— Jill Moorhead, marketing director, The Hills Market
This Thanksgiving, more and more retailers are offering turkeys that were raised sustainably, carrying such labels as free-range, organic and heritage or heirloom. The premium birds — which can cost as much as $10 per pound — appeal to environmentally conscious consumers looking for an alternative to the conventional Butterball.
“In regards to the heirloom, now those are the old-fashioned turkeys. Kind of like back in the Pilgrim days in regards to that,” said Eddie Garcia, general manager of Jimbo’s…Naturally!, a four-unit natural food store based in San Diego.
This year Jimbo’s began selling heirloom turkeys from Diestel Turkey Ranch, a Sonora, Calif.-based producer, in the meat department for $4.49 per pound. The retailer previously offered precooked Diestel turkeys in the deli department and had sold a different heritage bird last year.
“We don’t carry a lot of them. But what we can get in, they do sell out,” said Garcia.
The Hills Market, an independent retailer in Columbus, Ohio, started selling heritage turkeys this year for $6.79 per pound. The Bourbon Red birds from local Tea Hills Organic Farms represent an historical breed that is in danger of extinction, according to Slow Food USA.
Jill Moorhead, the store’s marketing director, said the pricey specialty birds appeal to a certain type of customer, one who is interested in the story behind the turkey. “You’ve got to know exactly what it is you’re getting and understand why you’re getting it. Someone who’s getting a 39-cent frozen Butterball from a chain market would not understand the heritage bird.”
Two weeks before Thanksgiving, the retailer had sold most of its allotment of heritage turkeys through customer preorders.
Another popular option this year was an organic Broad Breasted Bronze from Tea Hills that The Hills Market introduced in 2011.
Moorhead said the Broad Breasted Bronze, which sells for $5.79 per pound, has a lot of the same characteristics as a heritage bird with a lower price tag and the large white breasts that consumers expect from a Thanksgiving turkey. “It’s kind of the best of both worlds.”
The Hills Market chose to sell the local Tea Hills turkeys because the retailer knew there would be a lot of customer interest, said Moorhead. “We have a strong local foods movement [in Columbus]. We have a strong farm-to-table movement.”