Butterball CEO talks turkey

NEW YORK — Turkey isn’t just for Thanksgiving, says Butterball CEO Rod Brenneman.

Whether it’s turkey sausage for breakfast, turkey medallions on salad for lunch or roast turkey and gravy for dinner, Brenneman says he eats the bird at least once every day.

His meal choices were among the personal glimpses he shared during an interview with The Associated Press. Brenneman also dished about how Butterball handles its busiest time of year. The company, based in Garner, N.C., estimates that it makes one out of every five turkeys eaten on Thanksgiving.

This year, Butterball ran into a shortage of large, fresh turkeys. Brenneman says it’s the first time the company had trouble fattening up its birds in time for the holidays. He says the cause is unknown but is being investigated.

In the meantime, Butterball is welcoming another first: Its famous Turkey Talk Line at 1-800-BUTTERBALL now will employ men. The toll-free line has been a resource for cooks with questions about preparing their holiday feasts since 1981. On Thanksgiving alone, Butterball says the line fields more than 12,000 calls.

Here are excerpts from the interview with Butterball’s Brenneman:

Question: Where did the name Butterball come from? And how do you feel about the term being used to describe chubby people?

Answer: Many people think Butterball turkeys have butter in them, but they don’t. Basically the name came about because of their plump size and golden color. We’re proud of the Butterball name. There is no talk or joke about being a butterball at this company. Only about our turkeys. They’re plump.

Q: Do you produce whole turkeys year round or just as you get closer to Thanksgiving?

A: Ten months out of the year we’re producing whole turkeys and freezing them. Those are the frozen birds that you’re buying (for Thanksgiving). For October and November, we shift into what we call fresh season. Those birds are all fresh.

Q: So the turkey I buy could’ve been frozen a long time ago?

A: They’re frozen throughout the year. It could’ve been a month ago. It could’ve been three or four months ago. Either way, once they’re frozen, they maintain their quality and shelf life.

Q: What are some of the most common questions you get on the Turkey Talk line?

A: “How long does it take to thaw a turkey?”

Q: What are some of the more unusual questions you’ve had?

A: We had a time when the people had left their turkey outside all night. I guess it was really cold and it had snowed. They called and they wanted to know how to locate their turkey in the snow.

Q: Why did you decide to have men field calls?

A: One in four calls we get at the Turkey Talk Line are men, believe it or not. We stepped back and looked at the changing Thanksgiving table and men are becoming more and more a part of, not only the carving of the turkey, but the cooking of the turkey.

Q: Do they have to go through any training?

A: Every single person who works on the Turkey Talk Line goes through Butterball University. They are trained from A-to-Z on turkey and turkey-related items. I think it lasts for one week each year.

Q: Do you do the cooking on Thanksgiving, and if so, have any tips?

A: Getting the turkey prepared and in the oven is usually my job, and then carving it. If anyone has any questions at all, I’d say call 1-800-Butterball. I’ve actually used it myself. For example, last year I was up in the mountain and I called to see if I needed to cook it differently at that altitude. Believe or not, the lady knew the answer right off the top of her head. Since I was below a certain altitude, I didn’t need to change anything about it.

Q: Did you tell her you were the CEO?

A: I did not.

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