Cargill sees opportunity in turkey traceability

Meat & Poultry, Nov. 20, 2017 - by Erica Shaffer

WICHITA, Kan. – Cargill’s traceable turkey pilot program is bringing consumers closer to the source of their Thanksgiving turkey using blockchain technology. The company estimates traceable turkeys will be available to more than 500,000 consumers.

Blockchain is most common in the financial services industry as the technology underpinning digital currencies such as Bitcoin. While it’s not exactly “birdcoin”, the traceability pilot program embodies some of the same goals — to create a record that traces the provenance of the product which, in this case, features turkeys produced for the Honeysuckle White brand. Deborah Socha, brand manager for Honeysuckle White, said the idea for the pilot originated several years ago when the brand took a position around offering consumers transparency.

“It became a natural progression for us when a technology inside of Cargill — a digital supply chain tool that also included a blockchain capability and solution — was presented,” Socha said. “It was a perfect opportunity for us to continue to bring that transparency message and visibility to the consumers of the Honeysuckle White brand.”

As part of the program, consumers can text or enter an on-package code at HoneysuckleWhite.com to access the farm’s location by state and county, view the family farm story, see photos from the farm and read a message from the farmer. The company also launched a product finder website that includes a full list of grocery stores carrying the traceable turkeys.

Cargill intends to use the pilot project to learn more about harnessing the value of traceability in the company’s supply chain for turkeys. Various stakeholders within Cargill will be poring over sales data, quantitative and qualitative consumer research and other data gleaned from tracking through media and websites to explore the impact of the program. Feedback from farmers, retailers and internal stakeholders also will be included.

“We’re using this pilot as an opportunity to learn as well as to further develop our capabilities internally on Honeysuckle White and for Cargill,” Socha said. “There are opportunities in the future dependent on the success of this program and what we move forward with afterwards to include additional information within the supply chain. It’s definitely something that we’re looking at.”

Growing closer to consumers

The four turkey producers who volunteered for the program are all based in Texas. The turkeys they raise are processed at a facility in Waco. As part of the pilot project, Cargill had to align the processing phase with distribution to the retail customers that place orders for turkeys from the Waco facility.

Darrel Glaser volunteered to participate in the project to re-establish the link between consumers and producers. Glaser said he believes it’s extremely important to connect with consumers to help them understand what producers do and why.

“Most people don’t realize the time and effort that we put into making sure that our birds have a good environment to be in,” Glaser said. “When a front comes in the middle of the night and the temperature drops and the winds blow, we’ll go out and check and make sure all of our curtains stayed up and that the birds are comfortable, and all of our heaters turned on — I think they’re surprised by that. We might be walking to a turkey house in the middle of the night making sure that everybody’s happy and everything is good.”

Glaser and his wife started their operation in right out of college in 1994. He earned a bachelor of science in animal science and a master’s in nutrition from Texas A&M Univ. in College Station, Texas. His wife has a Ph.D. in biochemistry. Glaser grew up on a family farm with his mother and sister. He noted there was a time when most people would have a relative — a grandparent, uncle or someone — who grew up on a farm or lived on a farm.

“Having grown up in production agriculture, I’ve always tried to tell the story of what we do, because people are just becoming generations removed where they’re living in cities and places like that; and they don’t necessarily get a hands-on feel for what actually goes into producing food,” he said.

Consumers can text or enter an on-package code at HoneysuckleWhite.com to access the farm’s location, view the family farm story, see photos from the farm and read a message from the farmer.

Faith in family farmers

Family farmers have been part of the Honeysuckle White brand promise from the start, and the farmers are giving the company another platform to tell the brand story, Socha said.

“The farmers who raise turkeys for Honeysuckle White…are absolutely fantastic,” she said. “For the farmer, oftentimes they wish they had more connection with where that end-product lands. They want the consumer to know that it was grown by them; they’re very proud of the hard work and everything that they put into raising those turkeys. So, for them, it was a very natural conversation to start a discussion … it was a pretty easy dialog for us to have with the farmers.”

Glaser engages consumers in different situations. For example, one of Glaser’s four sons plays baseball on a traveling team. The Glasers interact with other families from surrounding cities such as Austin, Dallas and Houston, Glaser explained, and they’re always very intrigued when the Glasers talk about the farm. It happens so often, that Darrel Glaser keeps photos on his smartphone that illustrate the process of turkey production to help curious consumers see what happens on the farm.

“We always try to explain exactly what we do, how we grow our birds, how we keep the environment, what are the most important things that go into producing a turkey,” Glaser said. “I’ve always felt like I’ve done a good job talking to people and explaining that when we’re done with the conversation they want to know where to buy our birds that we produce.”