NTF CHAIRMAN TALKS TURKEY ABOUT RULES, RED MEAT RIVALS

KINGS ISLAND, Ohio -- National Turkey Federation Chairman Jim Cooper called for cooperation with red meat competitors on regulatory issues, predicted advancements in poultry marketing and technology, and addressed what the industry sees as inadequate display of turkey products at retail at the summer meeting here.He also applauded the final version of what is widely known as "Mega-Reg" by the Department

KINGS ISLAND, Ohio -- National Turkey Federation Chairman Jim Cooper called for cooperation with red meat competitors on regulatory issues, predicted advancements in poultry marketing and technology, and addressed what the industry sees as inadequate display of turkey products at retail at the summer meeting here.

He also applauded the final version of what is widely known as "Mega-Reg" by the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service.

"NTF and our members have been calling for modernization of U.S. poultry and meat inspection laws for many years. Publishing the mega-regulation is an important step in that process."

However, he subsequently addressed allegations by competing meat producers that there are perceptible differences in food safety regulations required of poultry and red meat facilities.

"Let's make one thing clear right now," said Cooper during the address. "There are no inequities between regulation of poultry and red meat.

"The FSIS performance standard for all species is exactly the same, which is an 80% probability of passing inspection.

"At the same time NTF is on record publicly to work with red meat producers to resolve their regulatory issues that are burdensome to them. I would rather see us spend our energy and resources working together than in tearing each other down."

In an interview with SN, Cooper later explained how he believes that both red meat and white meat suppliers and producers should work together in spite of their heated competition for "share of stomach."

"Supermarket chains fight fiercely for customers' business, yet band together when faced with an unfavorable tax or regulatory proposal. The red and white meat industries do the same," he told SN.

"[We] have many common interests on which we can work together: consumer confidence in the quality and safety of meat proteins, appropriate industry regulation and oversight . . . Yes, we compete for 'share of stomach' on the microeconomic level, but there are macro issues that can better be addressed through partnerships to create an economic, consumer and regulatory environment where all can compete fairly."

In his address at the summer meeting, Cooper stated that Reston, Va.-based NTF was petitioning the Department of Agriculture on behalf of "advanced meat recovery technology." He explained to SN what this means for retailers and consumers.

"Advanced meat recovery offers a win-win situation for consumers and the poultry industry. Consumers are receiving a high-quality, low-cost product that meets or exceeds all of USDA's strict requirements and industry receives the benefit of a process that increases efficiency.

"At the retail level, AMR turkey will fill a niche for higher quality ingredients in ground turkey products, such as sausages. The final product has a ground meat texture, and the red meat processors are indeed mixing it in their ground meat. Since it will be labeled as turkey, no change will be apparent to consumers.

"Approval of AMR for poultry will enable turkey processors to remove small pieces of turkey meat from bone without crushing, grinding or pulverizing the bone, and to label the poultry that is removed from the bone in this manner as 'turkey.' "

He explained that in 1995, an FSIS regulation demanded that meat that had undergone such a process be labeled "mechanically separated turkey."

"A consumer survey commissioned by NTF showed this labelling change would confuse consumers and carried a negative connotation," he said.

"Industry studies show that the quality of meat removed through the AMR process is the same, both nutritionally and compositionally, as meat removed by hand."

He added that AMR systems are currently used in the beef and pork industry but have not been available until now for use with poultry.

Another legislative initiative NTF has sponsored is to request federal funding for research into what is known as the "spiking mortality" disease, or poultry enteritis syndrome, which has wiped out significant numbers of retail-bound turkeys in recent years.

"At NTF's request, the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee has approved $200,000 in research dollars but we have a long way to go before the President signs the budget," said Cooper in his address.

On the subject of marketing and new products, Cooper indicated that the turkey industry is making great strides in superseding .... consumer demand.

"Turkey processors are no longer just responding to consumer desires; they are working hard to create those desires," he said in his address.

"We may grouse about the space allocated to turkey products in retail, and we complain about the fact that turkey products are in different locations on the retail floor. But the fact of the matter is that the turkey industry is paying close attention to the marketplace, and developing products to meet today's lifestyle choices. Consumers want good taste, convenience and healthful food, in that order."

He told SN that new products would represent an expansion of certain innovations already on the market, such as flavored or spiced products and cuts packaged for convenience. He also indicated that the industry is pursuing a realistic approach to fulfilling consumer demand.

"Turkey processors are working to create consumer desires by honing in on the characteristics consumers say they are looking for and what sales trends show they are buying. Coupling the healthful attributes of turkey with innovative cuts, for example, creates a demand for turkey to substitute for other meats in recipes and at meals. Ground turkey is being used instead of ground beef in turkey chili or spaghetti sauce. Turkey bacon lightens up the traditional BLT."

Regarding what the industry perceives as short shrift given to turkey products compared with competing protein sources, Cooper said that the industry itself will take responsibility for changing that situation.

"Obviously, we'd like to see more responsiveness in space allotment and we will continue to work with the supermarket retail industry toward that goal. We also recognize our role in making that happen, and as we create additional demand for our products we're confident that supermarkets will see the benefit in displaying our products differently."

Another marketing issue addressed at the summer meeting was the role NTF should take in regard to promoting the product.

"A special marketing meeting was held during our summer meeting," Cooper told SN. "Those participating recommitted to the overall goal that NTF and the industry is trying to accomplish, that of increasing per capita turkey consumption."

However, attendees declined to initiate a generic advertising campaign to accomplish this goal.

"Two years ago our membership considered conducting a generic advertising campaign similar to what other commodity groups are doing, and decided not to pursue it at that time. We still feel that was the correct decision because of the prevalence of branded products and support for those products by individual processors in the turkey industry."

Instead, NTF determined that more gains could be made by a concerted effort in the food-service sector, and consequently a new campaign focusing on consumer education and promotion is in development.

"In 1997, we will launch a multiyear campaign to increase turkey usage among food-service operators with a variety of communications vehicles."

The new campaign will be revealed at NTF's 1997 annual convention in January.