Jennie-O gains ground with ‘ground’
WILLMAR -- Folks in California pride themselves on being the trendsetters when it comes to the growing national interest in culinary choices that are both good for you and taste great.
WILLMAR - Folks in California pride themselves on being the trendsetters when it comes to the growing national interest in culinary choices that are both good for you and taste great.
What the West Coast trendsetters might not know is that they are actually taking their lead from Willmar, located nearly smack dab in the middle of the country.
It’s here that Jennie-O Turkey Store is producing not only the products, but also providing the marketing and development know-how that is helping turkey continue to grow as a consumer choice.
“It’s a terrific story for Willmar,’’ said Glenn Leitch, president of Jennie-O Turkey Store in Willmar. “To run a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign out of here, to have brand managers focused in this area that are marketing experts and to be able to have science and technology people, R and D experts that live and reside in this local area that is nationally recognized as the best in its protein field.’’
When it comes to turkey, Jennie-O has been the main brand in the California marketplace for 25 years, according to Leitch.
Yet what he is especially excited about today is Jennie-O’s growing success among millennials, no matter where they live. These young adults in the 18-to-34 age bracket are one of the most sought after consumer demographics.
Jennie-O Turkey Store is “over-indexed’’ when it comes to millennials, enjoying a 28 percent household penetration. That compares to a 24 percent household penetration with the overall population.
Jennie-O Turkey Store’s relationship with millennials is a natural fit, according to Brent Koosman, an Appleton native and millennial now leading the company’s efforts as marketing director in Willmar. Millennials are very focused on healthy foods and protein. And, they want foods that are adaptable to a wide profile of flavors and culinary styles, which is also an attribute of turkey, he explained.
The company is enjoying strong consumer interest in a wide selection of turkey products, but has been capturing attention lately for its lead in the growing demand for ground turkey. Jennie-O Turkey Store is making inroads into the ground beef market, Leitch said. Consumers are increasingly selecting ground turkey in place of ground beef, a trend the industry expects to continue.
A reputation for freshness is a big reason that consumers often pick the familiar Jennie-O Turkey Store package when they do select ground turkey. “We do fresh better than anyone else in the industry,’’ Leitch said.
Again, Willmar has a lot to do with making it possible. The geographic location allows Jennie-O Turkey Store to deliver product to markets in any area of the country faster than its competitors, many of which are located on the East Coast.
And thanks to the infrastructure made possible as part of parent company Hormel Foods, Jennie-O Turkey Store can take a customer’s order at noon Friday and have it in their warehouse by Monday morning, no matter the location. “And not a lot of competitors on a national scale can do that,’’ Leitch said.
On the retail side, the strong brand allegiance on the part of millennials bodes well for the company, noted Leitch and Koosman. It offers the promise of long-term loyalty, as well as the opportunity to build brand familiarity with their children.
Jennie-O Turkey Store also enjoys the advantage of serving future decision-makers in the marketplace. It is the largest provider of turkey products into the U.S. school system, according to Leitch.
Jennie-O Turkey Store has essentially been growing its ground turkey business since the 1980s, when the company began transforming turkey from a seasonal product to one that is year-round. From the start, it was all about converting turkey to a format that consumers would want, explained Leitch.
Not surprisingly, the versatility of ground turkey has allowed it to grow its market share and become a lead component in everyday use for consumers.
It’s enjoying an ever stronger resonance with consumers as demand grows for healthy options.
Yet marketing to millennials takes much more than letting them know about turkey’s value as a healthy source of protein. Millennials want to engage with the brands they choose, and they expect transparency, according to Koosman. “They want the truth, who you are and how you align with who they are,’’ he said.
Jennie-O Turkey Store works through a wide variety of media, often connecting to millennials through social media. Efforts range from offering suggested recipes and uses for turkey on social media to national television advertising. A relationship with the national television’s “Biggest Loser’’ program will make possible an upcoming campaign promoting the value of ground turkey.
Leitch said the company is prepared to meet a growing demand for turkey, even as it prepares for the possibility that the highly pathogenic avian influenza could return this fall. A variety of new measures are being implemented to improve biosecurity and to respond to any outbreak.
Currently, the company is on track to have all of its farms repopulated by the end of the month. If there are no further outbreak issues, it should be in full production mode by early January or February, he said.