Several years ago, Kirk Posmantur, the founder of branding agency Axcess Worldwide, had an unsettling meeting with his cardiologist. “He told me, ‘Kirk you’ve got to drop about 20 pounds and eat more turkey burgers,'” he says.
That’s because turkey is an under-appreciated lean meat. It’s high in protein and lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than beef, pork, or even chicken. The problem: Most farmers only raise the big birds around Thanksgiving, meaning that most of what you can find in the store is either ground turkey meat or processed sliced turkey cold cuts.
So, in late August, Posmantur turned his quest for more turkey into a business, joining with two major players in the food world–clean meat icon George Faison, and James Beard award-winning chef Michel Nischan–to launch The Great American Turkey Company, which sells turkey cutlets, strips, sausages, bratwursts, and hotdogs at more than 160 Fresh Market stores around the country. That footprint nearly doubles this month, with Price Chopper agreeing to carry the products in many stores, along with grocery delivery service Fresh Direct.
The Great American Turkey Company offers humanely raised, hormone-, antibiotic- and preservative-free birds that are harvested completely, so that no part of the animal goes to waste. “I think turkey is America’s next protein,” says GATC President and COO Faison, who previously founded and helped run upscale organic poultry company D’Artagnan before becoming a partner at the heritage meat operation DeBragga and Spitler. Faison talks seriously about “disrupting poultry” and making gobblers “the alternative to beef.”
After all, he says, the meat itself has a more beef-like quality—it’s denser and slightly chewier than chicken, although with a fairly mild taste. The average bird is about 60% white meat, and 40% dark. At GATC, the white meat becomes cutlets, while the dark meat goes into sausages.
Nischan, who has been cooking healthfully since at least the late ’90s when he opened Heartbeat, a New York City hotel restaurant featuring no processed ingredients, helped develop the company’s recipes, which include four different cutlet marinades and six sausage styles.
Faison says that Americans typically eat about eight times as much chicken as turkey. By the company’s estimate, that equates to 160 pounds of the former each year, an average of about three pounds per week. At the same time, commercial turkeys end up about five times bigger than chickens, weighing between 25 and 30 pounds. That means the animals require different hatcheries and slaughterhouse operations, so those facilities often run below capacity until the holiday season, when about 70% of all sales occur.
As Posmantur sees it, the brand can provide a healthier meat alternative for anyone “from soccer moms to millennials.” If they can afford it. The cutlets and sausages retail at a mid-level price range of about $7.99 and $6.99 per 12-ounce package, respectively, quite a bit more than chicken. To try to redeem themselves slightly for their higher prices, GATC has committed to improving food equity in a different way by sharing profits with Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit that Nischan founded. Wholesome Wave assists community groups in doubling SNAP benefits and supporting vegetable prescription programs for people without access to affordable healthy food.
GATC initially promised $25,000 of its end-of-year sales to the group. It hopes to at least double that commitment in the coming year, and continue to give more as sales grow. For comparison, Wholesome Wave has a budget of about $6 million annually, much of which is provided though foundation grants and corporate donations. But eventually this sort of recurring revenue could make a big difference for the organization–and stretch the turkey provider’s healthy halo even more.