Foster Farms is planning the launch of antibiotic-free (ABF) turkey products, with hopes of having the new products available well in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday.
The news of Foster Farms' plans to raise and market ABF turkey comes on the heels of Foster Farms’ release of new lines of antibiotic-free and organic chicken, as well as the company’s participation in the White House Forum on Antibiotic Stewardship. The forthcoming offering of antibiotic-free turkey is just part of the company’s commitment to responding to consumer wishes for more poultry raised without antibiotics.
“We are bringing out antibiotic-free whole turkeys in the fall, probably around September or so,” said Ira Brill, communications director for Foster Farms.
Brill did not release many more details about the company’s upcoming ABF turkey offerings, but he added that Foster Farms had been actively raising turkeys without antibiotics. So much of the industry’s focus had been on antibiotic-free chicken, largely because consumers purchase a higher volume of chicken, Brill said. However, consumers are just as interested in an antibiotic-free turkey product, so Foster Farms wants to fill that niche.
Presidential turkey to be raised without antibiotics
Adding to Foster Farms’ excitement about its upcoming release of ABF turkey products is the fact that the 2015 National Thanksgiving Turkey to be presented to President Barack Obama and his family will be raised without antibiotics.
The honor of raising the National Thanksgiving Turkey is bestowed upon the chairman of the National Turkey Federation. This year’s chairman is Jihad Douglas, president of Aviagen Turkeys. Douglas asked Foster Farms to raise the Presidential Turkey on Aviagen's behalf, according to Brill.
Foster Farms also raised the 2010 presidential turkey.
Demographics and demand for antibiotic-free poultry
Foster Farms is headquartered in California and most of its distribution is along the West Coast, Brill said. He added that the largest demand for antibiotic-free poultry is both on the West Coast and the East Coast.
However, the age of a consumer also has a lot to do with preference for ABF products. Foster Farms on June 3 released the results of a study, conducted earlier in 2015, that showed that members of the Millennial generation were a driving force behind the ABF movement.
The survey revealed that while availability and pricing are cited as potential challenges, nearly one third of Millennial respondents consider “organic” or “no antibiotics” to be the most important factor in choosing fresh poultry. The survey of 1,872 West Coast Millennial parents further found that once Millennials have children, traditional family values and peer influence are primary factors that affect everything from grocery purchases to cooking and consumption habits.
The survey also showed that 79 percent of Millennial parents surveyed agreed that they are much more concerned about antibiotics and ingredients used to produce food than their parents’ generation.
About the new Foster Farms chicken products
Foster Farms on June 1 announced the release of two new brands that embrace antibiotic-free and organic production – Foster Farms Organic and Foster Farms Simply Raised antibiotic-free chicken.
“When you look at the Foster Farms brand, we’ve essentially divided it up into three distinct product lines,” said Brill.
Foster Farms Fresh and Natural, the company’s pre-existing brand, will continue to have no added hormones or steroids. However, antibiotics can still be administered when needed to the chickens raised for this brand.
Foster Farms Organic is a certified organic brand from free-range chickens that are fed an organic vegetarian diet with no antibiotics.
Foster Farms Simply Raised is produced with no added antibiotics, hormones or steroids ever, and is fed a 100 percent vegetarian diet.
Foster Farms had previously produced organic and ABF chicken for retail partners, but this will be the first time it will market ABF and organic chicken under its own label.
All three brands are American Humane Certified.
“The key thing with the marketplace at this time is offering the consumer choice. I think our policy has been to respond to the concerns about the use of human antibiotics. But we’ve also got to look at the marketplace and recognize at this point that the actual number of consumers that are buying organic and ABF products is probably around 20 percent,” said Brill. “What we think by offering choice, we are allowing consumers to make the decision, but at the same time, ensuring that the antibiotics that are of the most concern -- which are the ones used in human medicine -- can keep working.”
Foster Farms will continue to produce some of its poultry with the use of antibiotics, because the company realizes that antibiotics are still a useful tool in maintaining bird health. Foster Farms also knows that ABF production is more expensive than poultry production using antibiotics, and that not all consumers are willing to pay a premium for ABF chicken.
“What we’re dealing with is trying to balance human health, bird health, affordability and accessibility of the product. If we err in any direction, then we’re not serving the consumer well,” Brill said.
Brill said while certain West Coast plants will be designated for the processing of its ABF and Organic poultry, no plant is expected to exclusively process one particular brand.