Everything You Need To Know About The BIG TURKEY Industry

baby turkey

The turkey industry is on the rebound.

Thanks to high prices, American turkey farms had a total income of $4.37 billion in 2010, up from $3.57 billion the year before, according to the USDA (via eatturkey.com). At the same time higher income was offset by higher costs for grain and fuel.

The past year saw big production increases at America’s midsize producers, while big three Butterball, Jennie-O and Cargill showed restraint, according to Watt Poultry.

We’ve tracked down all the salient information about Big Turkey, including ways to invest in Thanksgiving.

The turkey industry's income jumped 22 per cent last year

U.S. turkey was a $4.37 billion dollar industry in 2010, based on gross farm revenue. That was a 22% increase from the year before, according to eatturkey.com.

Producers have been seen higher costs and income thanks to high commodity prices. Meanwhile the recession has cut down consumer spending. Rising export values buoyed the industry, which saw an 18 per cent increase from 2009.

This year saw mid-level turkey producers taking back some power from Big Turkey

The major trend in the U.S. turkey industry has been consolidation. But in 2010, the biggest producers mostly held steady or fell in production, while mid-level producers stepped up their game.

Among the top seven turkey producers, only number five ranked Sara Lee looked to increase production in 2011 -- despite splitting the company in two early this year. Meanwhile mid-level producers (numbers eight through 18) had a mean planned production increase of 6.4 per cent.

Still, big companies dominate the market, and innovation has led to fewer hatcheries and greater production, according to a USDA study, The modern process is typically spread over several farms -- laying facilities, incubators, brooder barn, and slaughterhouses.

One trend to emerge from all this? Fatter birds.

In 1986, the average bird weighed 20 pounds; by 2006 the figure had increased to 28.2 pounds. Which means our turkeys are just like us!

Turkey production by state: Minnesota rules again, with a slight change in the top five

Minnesota, home to Jennie-O and Cargill, leads the country in turkey production at 47 million birds raised in 2010.

North Carolina, home to Butterball, comes in second at 30 million birds for the year.

Arkansas (Tyson) is third at 28 million, Missouri fourth at 18 million and Virginia fifth at 17 million,
according to eatturkey.com.

A year-round market

Holiday turkey eating represents only about 31% of total yearly consumption, according to the National Turkey Federation.

Of the 226 million turkeys consumed in the U.S. in 2010, the NTF estimates that 46 million were eaten at Thanksgiving (20%), 22 million at Christmas (9%), and 19 million at Easter (8%).

~25,000 jobs!

The turkey industry employs a sizable number of Americans.

Employment estimates range from 13,000 at IBIS World to more than 25,000, according to eatturkey.com.

After a possible trend of turkey exporting beginning to develop, the export percentage dropped this year

Exports now comprise about 10% of turkey production as compared to 1.2% in 1990.

  • 321 million pounds go to Mexico
  • 74.45 million to China
  • 24 million to Russia; and
  • 21 million to Canada


Unlike other foods, organic isn't taking hold in the turkey industry.

The Toronto Star reports a decline in organic birds because of regulations against outdoor turkey growing (designed to prevent the spread of disease).

Plus, Iowa State University notes that organic turkeys require 25% more space and take 14 weeks to grow to about 11 pounds, compared to 10 weeks in a factory.

By our quick maths, only about 143,000 out of 107 million U.S. turkeys are organic.

Like heirloom vegetables, heritage turkeys look strange, are more expensive -- and taste better.

What's a heritage turkey? A weird breed that gourmands have decided is more authentic.

According to a New York Times review, heritage breeds have 'richer, fuller flavour -- especially in the dark meat -- and were much juicier than the industrial birds, including the free-range version.'

How to play the Turkey Game

How to invest in the turkey business?

There's no Turkey ETF, but a handful of the top companies are public.

Butterball is a joint venture between Smithfield Foods (SFD) and Goldsboro Milling Co. (private). Jennie-O is owned by Hormel Foods (HRL). Plus, Kraft (KFT) and Sara Lee (SLE) sell turkey products.

Peck away...

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