The Woman Who Sells Thanksgiving

The Woman Who Sells Thanksgiving
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This story originally appeared on Fortune Magazine

While turkey takes center stage once a year on Thanksgiving, the U.S. turkey industry is an $18 billion year-round market that produced 253 million birds in 2013, according to the National Turkey Federation. The industry is dominated by three major players—Butterball, Jennie-O Turkey Store (a subsidiary of Hormel Foods) and Cargill—who produced about 3.62 billion pounds of turkey over the last year, or about as much as the next 20 companies combined.

On the brink of Thanksgiving, we checked in with Jennie-O Turkey Store’s director of marketing Jen Ehresmann. In a phone interview, she spoke about everything from her marketing strategy to the perks of the job and her favorite Thanksgiving turkey recipe.

Getting people to buy turkeys for Thanksgiving seems like an easy sell, but are there any challenges associated with it?

While we can ship frozen turkeys well ahead of the holiday, fresh turkeys must be shipped on a very tight schedule. We always hope for good weather around the country to ensure our turkeys get to where they need to be when they need to be there.

When you have an iconic holiday/food pairing like Thanksgiving and turkey, what role does marketing play?

Our research shows that preparing the turkey and ensuring everything is done at the same time is the most nerve-racking part of the day. One innovative solution we offer is Jennie-O Oven Ready Turkey. The great thing about this product is that it literally goes from the freezer to the oven without the need to thaw, wash or season the turkey.

What is Jennie-O’s marketing strategy for the other 364 days a year?

We’re on a mission to make it easy to eat well and believe that eating well shouldn’t come at the cost of taste. Our current advertising campaign Make The Switch encourages people to switch to turkey without giving up the foods they love. Our most recent TV spot focuses on a better taco, made with Jennie-O lean ground turkey.

Who exactly is Jennie-O?

In 1940, Earl B. Olson, the entrepreneur who started Jennie-O Foods, started the company in Minnesota. Our brand is actually named for his daughter, Jennifer Olson.

Nearly half of all of the turkey in the U.S. comes from Minnesota. Why is that?

There are a whole host of reasons that makes Minnesota ideal: close access to feed grains, good agricultural infrastructure and we can access both coasts with fresh product within two days.

You earned a business degree from St. Cloud State University in northern Minnesota. But how exactly did you end up working in the turkey industry?

SCSU has an accredited business program; I went through their International Business program. After university, I worked for a time in Frankfurt, Germany. Ultimately, I came back to central Minnesota for personal reasons. My husband and I, along with our two kids, live on acreage that his grandparents originally farmed. Jennie-O Turkey Store, a global company located here in rural Minnesota, was an ideal choice for me.

Okay, let’s talk about the perks. At Jennie-O, do you get a free turkey for Thanksgiving?

We have a company store that offers Jennie-O products below cost. This perk is available for all 6,800 of our employees on a year-round basis. I will be picking up my Jennie-O Oven Ready Turkey there today!

How do you cook your turkey for Thanksgiving? And what tips can you share with us about cooking the perfect turkey?

Well, definitely ensure the turkey is fully cooked. I measure the temperature of my turkey with a meat thermometer in both the breast (165°F) and the thigh (180°F). Also, as tempting as it can be, don’t open and close the oven to check the turkey too frequently. This lets the heat out. I also stay very true to my mom’s dressing recipe, which includes minced up turkey livers and giblets… But probably don’t recommend that for first-time chefs.

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