The Companies Behind Your Thanksgiving Meal

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Ed.: Writer Justin Rohrlich explores why the usual Thanksgiving meal costs about half a buck more this year.

The American Farm Bureau reports that the average national cost of a 2010 Thanksgiving dinner is $43.47, a 56-cent increase from last year — about 1.3%.

The sample meal used by the Farm Bureau is a 16-pound turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls, cranberries, peas, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream for 10 adults.

Let’s deconstruct what will be on our plates tomorrow, shall we?


Bloomberg reports:

“Retailers in the US sold whole frozen turkeys for an average of $1.57 a pound in September, up 7.7% from a year earlier and the highest level since at least 1980, the Labor Department said on October 15. Record grain prices in 2008 led some producers to reduce their flocks.”

But the American Farm Bureau tells a different story:

“Turkey prices are down some this year despite the fact that, according to Agriculture Department estimates, turkey production has been slightly lower in 2010 than in 2009 and supplies of turkey in cold storage are below last year’s level,” says John Anderson, an American Farm Bureau Foundation economist.

So, who knows? Or, more to the point, who cares? Most retailers budget a loss on turkey sales, practically giving them away in the expectation that shoppers will buy all the rest of the fixings for a Thanksgiving meal while they’re in the store.

The turkey pardoned this year by President Obama is a Foster Farms bird, chosen from 18 toms raised on a ranch near Modesto, California.

Since Foster Farms is privately-held, here’s a look at Hormel (HRL), of which Jennie-O is a wholly-owned subsidiary.

As Minyanville’s Justin Sharon pointed out, “For its most recent quarter, Hormel reported an impressive 9.9% increase in sales, mainly due to being able to raise prices a hefty 8%. Its Dinty Moore segment has also showed strength as consumers continue gravitating toward relatively affordable fare in tough times. They also enjoy a solid financial footing, with debt representing only 17% or so of capital.

“Reasons for caution? It’s worth pointing out, especially this week, that feed grain prices are about 75% of the total cost of raising turkeys. As a result, their Jennie-O Turkey division is especially susceptible to any upturn in commodity costs such as we have witnessed recently.”


Perhaps the best-known brand of stuffing in America is Stove Top, a division of Kraft (KFT). It was invented by Ruth M. Siems, who was awarded US Patent No. 3,870,803 for it.

Siems’ obituary in the New York Times said, “The secret lay in the crumb size. If the dried bread crumb is too small, adding water to it makes a soggy mass; too large, and the result is gravel. In other words, as the patent explains, ‘The nature of the cell structure and overall texture of the dried bread crumb employed in this invention is of great importance if a stuffing which will hydrate in a matter of minutes to the proper texture and mouthfeel is to be prepared.”

“A member of the research and development staff at General Foods, Ms Siems was instrumental, her sister Suzanne Porter said, in arriving at the precise crumb dimensions — about the size of a pencil eraser.”

Sweet Potatoes

Whole Foods (WFMI) provides a little backgrounder on the difference between a sweet potato and a yam:

“There are two basic types of sweet potato: Moist (orange-fleshed) and dry (yellow-fleshed). The moist-fleshed potatoes are often called ‘yams.’ (The true yam is large — up to 100 pounds — and is grown in Africa and Asia, but rarely seen in the western world. However, common usage has made the term ‘yams’ acceptable when referring to the orange sweet potato.)”

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US consumption of sweet potatoes has been relatively flat, so various sweet potato industry groups have been trying to grow sales overseas.

“Ten years ago, this was an undiscovered vegetable in Europe,” David Picha, a professor at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center says. “We’ve done a very good job of promoting it and building awareness of the flavor and nutritional value since then.”


A package of 12 ct, 17 oz. Sara Lee (SLE) Classic Dinner Rolls is available for $3.66 from Amazon (AMZN).

Interesting fact from Sara Lee:

“Sara Lee Corp. ranked as a top employer for military talent, according to G.I. Jobs’ eighth annual list recognizing the nation’s top Military Friendly Employers®. As one of only two food manufacturers on the list this year, Sara Lee Corp.’s ranked 97 and marks the first time the company has been included in the list.

“’Sara Lee Corporation is very appreciative of all the work of our current and former military personnel,’ said Marcel Smits, interim chief executive officer, Sara Lee Corp. ‘We also are aware of the tremendous skills and abilities many of these people possess, which is why we have a dedicated effort to recruit them into our organization.’”


Ocean Spray, a cooperative of growers headquartered in Massachusetts, was formed in 1930 and is currently the world’s largest grower of cranberries.

A marketing manager at Ocean Spray named Edward Gelsthorpe is responsible for turning the humble cranberry’s fortunes around.

After he joined the company in 1963, he knew a change was in order.

“No matter how much money you spent saying, ‘Now, for heaven’s sake, eat cranberry sauce every time you have chicken,’ people simply weren’t going to do it,” he told AdEast magazine. “So the job was to broaden that base.”

On his recommendation, Ocean Spray introduced Cran-Apple in 1964, earning Gelsthorpe the nickname Cran-Apple Ed.


Who hasn’t suffered through a portion (or two, depending on how pushy your mother is) of Jolly Green Giant frozen peas, a brand owned by General Mills (GIS)?

The Giant (or his voice, at least) himself is actually Elmer “Len” Dresslar Jr., who recorded the famous “Ho, Ho, Ho,” heard in commercials for decades.

Dresslar’s daughter, Teri Bennett, said of his occasional “Ho, Ho, Ho” re-recordings over the years:

“He never got tired of it. If nothing else, it put my sister and I through college.”

Pumpkin Pie

If you’re baking your own pumpkin pie this year, be prepared for a steamy evening.

Dr Alan Hirsch, Director of Chicago’s Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Center, claims that, in a study of men ages 18 to 64 to determine which aroma arouses men the most, “The number one odor that enhanced penile blood flow was a combination of lavender and pumpkin pie,” with the pie being “the single strongest stimulant.”

Whipped Cream

When you think of whipped cream, it’s hard not to conjure up images of Reddi-Wip in a can — a Con-Agra (CAG) brand.

It too, has an interesting history.

A St Louis businessman named Aaron Lapin was Reddi-Wip’s creator, and was dubbed “The Whipped Cream King” by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In fact, one out of every two cans of aerosol topping eaten in the United States each year is Reddi-wip, leading Aerosol Age magazine to write of Lapin:

“He bought Cadillacs two at a time and lived in Gloria Swanson’s furnished mansion in Hollywood.”

And with that, have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Written by Drea Knufken

Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.