The Thanksgiving Supply Chain

Thanksgiving supply chainTomorrow is Thanksgiving, a time for FFFTT –  family, friends, football, thankfulness, and turkey. Lots of turkey. According to some reports I have seen, Americans will spend more than $1 billion on the 50+ million turkeys they will consume. Some of the biggest news that I have seen, however, is the technology upgrade that is happening this Thanksgiving. In fact, the country’s three largest turkey brands are making significant changes to their plans to improve the Thanksgiving supply chain.

First up is Butterball. Since 1981, the company has maintained its “Turkey Talk Line,” a toll-free number where customers could ask all the important turkey-related questions that they had. The talk line is open every November and December, with 50+ experts answering over 100,000 questions per season. The most popular questions have included: “can I use a turkey that has been in my freezer since last Thanksgiving?”, “what size turkey should I buy?”, “how long before Thanksgiving should I buy my frozen turkey?”, and “should I wash my turkey?” For those of you wondering, the answers are yes it will be fine, but for the best results, turkeys should be frozen for no more than 6 months; a pound and a half per person is a good rule of thumb; early, as a frozen turkey takes one day in the refrigerator for every 4 pounds to defrost; and you shouldn’t wash your turkey as it risks cross-contamination in your kitchen.

Over the years, the Turkey Talk Line has made a few changes, mostly by means of diversification to connect with more callers. In recent years, these changes have included male Talk Line experts and Spanish speaking experts. This year, Butterball is making its biggest change yet by embracing the new age of technology. Butterball is partnering up with Alexa to provide pre-recorded answers to a number of turkey-related questions. This means consumers can seek help from their Amazon Echo devices rather than calling the actual hotline. And for those customers that prefer to use the old-school method of calling in, Butterball is making life easier as well. Rather than waiting on hold, callers can provide a call-back number for a turkey expert to reach back out directly when available.

Jennie-O, a subsidiary of Hormel Foods Corp. and the nation’s second-largest turkey brand, is also getting more technologically inclined this Thanksgiving. Jennie-O is using new labels that will help to provide traceability for its birds. This feature was a year in the making, with 52 farms currently signed up for the program. The label has a code that can be entered on the Jennie-O website, which will give the customer the region of the farm, pictures of the family, and a quote from the farmer. The company’s tracking program doesn’t include ground turkey, “Oven-Ready” birds or other Jennie-O branded turkey items bought in the meat aisle. Speaking of Jennie-O ground turkey though, a recall due to Salmonella outbreaks on ground turkey meat is not exactly what the company needs heading into Thanksgiving week.

The third largest turkey producer is Cargill, which tested traceability last year. This year, the company is expanding its program for a limited number of its Honeysuckle White turkeys during the holiday season. Cargill’s program worked so well last year that it will quadruple the number of traceable birds this year. Unlike Jennie-O’s traceability program, Cargill’s harnesses the power of blockchain for improved traceability. This gives consumers more detailed information about the origin of their bird, such as the exact name and location of the farm. Consumers can enter a code from the packaging into the Cargill website or via text message to receive the information. Aside from the name and location of the farm, consumers immediately receive any images and other information that the producer wants to share. Cargill has said it will not charge more for the traceable turkeys but will leave pricing up to retailers.

Due to the holiday, Logistics Viewpoints will not be publishing articles tomorrow or Friday. Happy Thanksgiving, and since there will not be a song of the week in the Friday edition, enjoy Adam Sandler’s Thanksgiving Song.

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