Cannon Falls, Minn. — For millions of Americans, the traditional Thanksgiving dinner is all about the aroma of a bronze-baked turkey pulled from the oven — a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. But for turkey producers, it’s a challenge convincing consumers they should enjoy the big bird year-round.

Minnesota producer John Peterson is committed to expanding our turkey habits. Ferndale Market, his family’s on-farm retail store, offers gourmet turkey sausages flavored with red pepper and garlic, spinach and feta cheese and Italian seasoning.

Peterson’s farm, off Highway 52 near Cannon Falls, has been in the family for more than 70 years. In 2008, the Petersons opened Ferndale Market, named after grandparents Dale and Fern Peterson. Beside the family business’s turkey products, the retail store offers locally-produced meats, cheeses, dairy products, seasonal produce and specialty foods.

TURKEY BRANDING

“I had an interest in developing a brand and wanted to build on the foundation my family had laid,” Peterson says.

Peterson studied business and communications in college. In 2008, he returned with his wife Erica to the farm business his grandparents started and that his parents Dick and Jane operated. That year, the family renovated part of their turkey hatchery into an 1,800 square-foot retail space.

The farm raises almost 200,000 free-range turkeys annually. Birds are turned out to pasture during the spring, summer and fall. Besides on-farm retail, Peterson’s turkey products are marketed through wholesale channels to natural food stores, select grocery stores and restaurants.

“I looked into the food system, and how food is delivered, and recognized that we were doing things differently than most,” Peterson says. “That difference could appeal to certain demographics.”

GOURMET TURKEY YEAR-ROUND

Peterson is working with AURI meat scientist Carissa Nath to formulate a line of fresh and natural turkey sausages. “These are pretty unique products,” Nath says. “There aren’t a lot of fresh turkey sausages out there with these gourmet flavor profiles.”

“Turkey consumption is still very seasonal,” Peterson says. “This will give us the opportunity to increase our mix of products and provide a little more balance in demand.”

Turkey times are a changing, says Steve Olson, Minnesota Turkey Growers executive director. While the turkey was once just the bird of Thanksgiving, today “about 70 percent of turkey consumption” isn’t during the holidays, Olson says.

Turkey industry leaders “have helped increase consumption through the development of new products,” Olson says. Minnesota leads the nation in turkey production and, this year, will raise 45 million birds.

Peterson hopes the new products will help consumers, accustomed to pulling a Thanksgiving turkey from the oven, to enjoy pulling sizzling turkey sausages off the grill in July.