While turkey has long been a staple of Thanksgiving and holiday feasts, the protein has been moving into a year-round menu workhorse in foodservice, especially on college campuses where future menu trends can emerge.
As recently as 1970, 50 percent of turkey was consumed during the holidays. Today, that number is around 31 percent, according to statistics from the National Turkey Federation. And per-capita turkey consumption has increased since 1970 by 102 percent, to 16.4 pounds per person in 2010.
“[Turkey] is the No. 1 menu item among any carved item on the Sodexo menus, and it’s the most requested protein as far as students go,” Tom Beckmann, Sodexo’s general manager at Tulane University, said.
Beckmann spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News on Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving and the day Sodexo sees its highest carved-turkey consumption.
Sodexo nationwide served 1.5 million pounds of carved turkey on college campuses last year, said Gregory Yost, a company spokesman, and 4.9 million pounds were served throughout Sodexo’s entire annual operations at all locations.
These turkey trends have implications across foodservice, Beckmann noted.
“For the students coming up now, the ‘Food Network Group,’ they are deciding what’s going to be on the menu, whether you are a mom-and-pop restaurant or fine dining,” he said. “They are deciding the menus and are pushing the needle. Research and development chefs are definitely looking at what they are asking for, because that’s our future.”
Even quick-service restaurants, such as Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., offer turkey burgers to appeal to younger diners.
The popularity, he theorized, has to do with perceived healthfulness surrounding turkey — especially its lower fat count than other proteins — as and the “comfort-food” quality of turkey.
“It’s a comfortable thing and, especially when you are a student, it reminds you of home,” Beckmann said. “I know it remind me of my family table.”
In addition, he said, turkey is a cost-effective protein with a high satisfaction rate. “The ability to roast and hold and work with and still keep a great-looking product is there,” he said. “There are a lot of things working in your favor there.”
Carved, on-the-bone turkey is especially popular on college campuses serviced by Sodexo, Beckmann said.
“When we do carve turkey, it accounts for at least 65 to 70 percent of the entire menu mix for that meal period,” he said. That percentage is far higher than when other carved meats are served, such as roast beef or ham, Beckmann added.
This year at Tulane, Beckmann’s team roasted 290 whole, 14-pound birds. In addition, Sodexo provided food for a 600-student event sponsored by Tulane’s Multi-Cultural Affairs organization, and for the mostly international students who are unable to go home during the Thanksgiving holiday 30 turkeys are expected to be eaten, Beckmann said.