Rim Country Shoppers Love To Purchase And Talk Turkey

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"I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country: he is a Bird of bad moral character: like those among Men who live by Sharping and Robbing, he is generally poor and very often lousy.

"The Turkey is a much more respectable Bird and withall a true original Native of North America."

Benjamin Franklin

Those are pretty kind words for what is arguably America's pug-ugliest fowl. But if Franklin had been really smart, he would have noted the bird's potential as one of the holiday season's most lucrative commodities.

In the past 20 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the nation's love of turkey has soared, with per capita consumption up from 8.3 pounds to 18.5 pounds.

And in an average year, more than 2.74 billion pounds of turkeys are processed in the U.S. At 35 cents a pound thus far the lowest price for frozen turkey to be found in Payson Franklin's heirs would now be pulling in around $9.6 billion a year.

Makes you wonder exactly how wise Ol' Ben was.

Heck, even if he'd simply bought a piece of the Safeway meat department, he'd be doing pretty darned good.

"We'll be ordering about 3,500 turkeys over this Thanksgiving period," said David Ray, who's been the supermarket's meat department manager for 17 years. "But that's not anywhere close to the number we sold when we moved into our new store (on Highway 260) about three years ago. That year, we broke all of our own turkey-sales records, and haven't beaten them since.

"How many did we sell? A lot. Just put a lot."

Since Ray has held his job for 17 years now, he's a bona fide expert on turkeys, those who buy them and when they want them.

"Sales of Thanksgiving turkeys really start picking up the Friday before Thanksgiving, and we usually sell the most on the following Monday," he said.

The average size of the poultry Ray peddles depends on the current market price.

"When we have cheap prices like we have right now, at 35 cents a pound, even people who come in looking for a smaller turkey invariably end up buying a larger one."

That same observation was made by another poultry pro, David Martindale, a "meat associate" for the Wal-Mart Supercenter.

"Some people say they want a small turkey, because there's only two people in the family, but the majority always go for the biggest ones," he said. "The turkeys we carry are weighing in around 10 to 16 pounds, and everyone wants a bird between 18 and 20 pounds. But this is such a good price, they scale down what they thought they wanted."

Wal-Mart's price per pound is 35 cents, too. "But you don't need a store membership card or a minimum purchase to qualify," he said.

According to Martindale's figuring, Wal-Mart is somewhat behind Safeway in the turkey-sales race.

"We've got a refrigerated truck in the back, and I'd say it has about 1,500 turkeys in it," Martindale said. "This past week we've already gone through 500, and I'd guess that on Saturday or Monday we'll be getting a few more pallets (which hold 125 turkeys each), because they're going out the door so quickly."

No one from Bashas' was available for comment Thursday.

A feathered fad

Of course, all of this merely reveals what everyone already knows: Americans love to buy and eat turkey.

What's a little more surprising is how much they like to talk turkey.

The Butterball turkey company's Web site butterball.com, naturally contains some pretty astonishing statistics culled from their telephonic Turkey Talk-Line at (800) 323-4848.

For the past 20 years, for example, Butterball's turkey tele-experts have dished out turkey preparation advice to nearly 2.4 million callers.

To those callers, 32,410,800 seconds of advice has been dished out; 54,180 minutes of solutions served up; and 9,003 hours have been spent counseling the turkey troubled.

On average during those two decades, 5,000 calls were fielded daily, and for reasons the Butterball folks don't even try to explain Nov. 24, 1994, was the busiest day ever, with 30,485 calls.

Also during that period, it is estimated that the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line experts said the word "turkey" about 12 million times.

And of the millions of questions asked during the past 20 years, "What's the best way to prepare a picture-perfect turkey?" was posed 226,323 times while, shockingly, the query, "The family pet stole the bird, can we still eat what's left?" was asked a mere 380 times.

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