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Visiting farm promoters talk turkey

By Caroline Berg in New York | China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-20 11:07

Steve Olson has been to China seven times since 2004, always with turkey in mind.

On each visit, the executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association aims to get his favorite fowl on restaurant menus and residents' radar.

This month, Olson accompanied two officials from his state's Agriculture Department for a weeklong tour of Shanghai and Guangzhou to spread awareness about the benefits of turkey meat to Chinese chefs, retailers and consumers.

"From a Minnesota turkey farmer's perspective, we're looking at expanding markets," Olson said. "I think China is a good fit because we've got a good product and it can easily be incorporated into their diet."

Minnesota is the top turkey-producing state in the United States, with 250 family farms raising 47 million of the birds annually.

A $90,000 grant from the US Department of Agriculture Emerging Markets Program funded the trip by Olson and the two state officials. The program has also backed a Chinese-language guide that includes a DVD along with recipes and instructions on how to handle a whole turkey.

Through the USDA grant, the Minnesotans conducted seminars for chefs and a turkey cooking contest that drew some 80 participants. They also took part in retail tours of Shanghai and Guangzhou as well as a television show taping.

"Shanghai was kind of an obvious choice because it's like the New York City of China," said Christina Connelly, the state Agriculture Department's international trade program manager. "It's not just where Westerners go, but also Chinese people who are sort of on the up-and-up of trends and are willing to try new things."

The program's partner in China, SMH Consulting Group, suggested the group also visit the southeastern metropolis of Guangzhou.

"Guangzhou is known for culinary delights and diversity," Connelly said. "They tend to eat very adventurously. Within China, it's a different sort of taste palate where they're interested in trying new things."

Exports accounted for about 12 percent of total US turkey production last year, compared with 1.2 percent in 1990, according to the National Turkey Federation. In 2011, the Chinese mainland ranked second among US export destinations for turkey exports, at 82.9 million pounds (37.6 million kilograms), behind Mexico with 399 million pounds.

"[The Chinese] have learned how easy it is to cook and how much value there is because it's a bigger bird and you can get more meat out of it," Olson said.

Although the Minnesota farmer sees a trend in China of adopting Western holidays and consuming turkey on occasions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, he said the challenge remains to integrate turkey more into everyday life.

"There's a lot of room for growth for this market in China," Connelly said. "One of the challenges is just getting the message across that turkey is a healthier source of protein than most other meats that are traditionally consumed in countries like Chin, where they're kind of emerging markets where they're starting to have the income to purchase more sources of protein in their diets."

Turkey is shipped abroad in many forms - whole, ground, deli-style or as separate body parts, and prepared in a variety of ways that accommodate Chinese kitchens, which are often smaller and oven-less, Connelly said.

With promotional activities in China, such as the cooking contest for chefs, the Minnesota group also hopes to demonstrate turkey's taste factor.

"Turkey is widely thought of as a dry protein source," Connelly said. "But one of the things we emphasize over and over is, 'If your turkey is dry, whose fault is that?' It's the cook's fault."

Recipes in the Chinese-language turkey guide include stir-fries, quesadillas, salad and wraps.

"If you cook it right, it can be really juicy, but a lot of people don't know how to prepare a turkey, so they end up doing it in a way that doesn't taste very good," Connelly said. "I think that's another challenge to overcome."

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