Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Supply-Side Memo: From a Near-Heretic Product to a Near-Mainstream One, Turtle Island Foods' 'Tofurky' Will Grace Many a Thanksgiving Table Tomorrow

When Oregon USA-based natural foods company Turtle Island Foods first launched its non-meat, soy foods-based Tofurky whole turkeys and turkey roasts over a decade ago, many retailers and consumers met the Thanksgiving holiday center of the plate alternative to the great bird with shock and trepidation. After all they exclaimed, a real turkey, that once living bird, is a sacred Thanksgiving holiday dinner centerpiece.

Vegetarians and vegans praised the Tofurkey though. And today, with many more vegetarians and vegans in the U.S. and throughout the world (not to mention people looking for alternatives to animal fats), Turtle Island Foods' Tofurkey mock-turkeys not only continue to get praise, and more of it, but sales of the products for the Thanksgiving holiday particularly continue to soar.

For example, Last year, the company sold 275,634 of its Tofurky Turkey roasts (pictured at left), an increase of 37 percent over 2006 sales. Many of the roasts are sold throughout the year, not just for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. The Thanksgiving holiday is the single-biggest sales period for the turkey roasts though.

Turtle Island said today that it expects 2008 revenues to grow by about 20 percent over last year's sales, adding that a significant part of the company's growth comes in the fall from Tofurky sales for the twin holidays.

That's exceptional growth in these tough times. Any time for that matter.

Turtle Island, and the Tofurky, has some heavy weights in the animal rights, vegetarian and vegan movements behind it.

Virginia-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, is a supporter of the company and encourages vegans and vegetarians to buy Tofurky meals during the holidays, for example.

In addition, natural foods retailers and many supermarkets devote substantial space in their stores to the Tofurky birds and roasts, particularly in the fall. When the products were first introduced it was difficult to get a single facing in a store's refrigerated or frozen foods case.

In addition to its mock turkey center of the plate products, this year Turtle Island Foods is marketing a value-added special holiday meal geared specifically geared toward vegetarians. The meals include a Tofurky roast, giblet and mushroom gravy, wild rice and mushroom stuffing and cranberry apple potato dumplings. There are additional variations, different side dish combinations, as well.

And of course, Turtle Island Foods' markets a complete line of meat alternative foods, in addition to the mock-turkey items. These include: mock deli meats, chicken, sausage, hot dogs and other non-meat meat analog products. All of the mock-meats are made using a combination of organic tofu and wheat gluten. Today, natural foods stores and most supermarkets devote an entire section, featuring multiple brands, to meat-alternative products like those produced and marketed by Turtle Island Foods.

The natural foods company was founded in Oregon in 1980 by Seth Tibbot. It's seen growth each year since then, including the double-digit sales growth described earlier over the last few years.

In recent years many non-vegetarians and consumers who aren't anti-animal eating also have been serving the Tofurkey mock-turkey roasts at their Thanksgiving tables, along with the real birds, offering an alternative to their guests who are vegetarian. This has opened up an entire new holiday sales avenue for the natural foods company.

Similarly, sales of its complete line of organic tofu and wheat gluten-based mock-meats benefit not just from consumers who don't eat meat, but also from those looking for healthier foods. With people wanting to eat meat and animal fat less these days but still enjoy a meat-like taste, Turtle Island's products have filled this niche for many consumers, opening another new market niche for the company's products.

the sales growth and success of the Tofurky brand hasn't been lost on the advertising industry trade publication Advertising Age. It named the brand one of its "Top 50 Brands of 2008" in the publication this year. That's a major achievement for any company, in any industry.

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