The Butterball Turkey Talk-Line On Call and On Trend For 25 Years
1981 was a year of many firsts…the first personal computer from IBM, the debut of MTV, and the first season for the Butterball® Turkey Talk-Line™ (1-800- BUTTERBALL), which has provided holiday peace of mind for millions of families during the last quarter century.
One of the first national, toll-free consumer help lines, the original Talk-Line staff of six home economists fielded questions from 11,000 turkey-troubled Americans during its first season in November 1981. On Thanksgiving Day, the small group fielded hundreds of calls — with only a Rolodex of notes and their own knowledge to help them answer the nation’s questions.
Today, professionally-trained home economists and nutritionists assist more than 100,000 callers each year in the United States and Canada during the holiday season. The Talk-Line’s 50 staff members are capable of answering questions from either English- or Spanish-speaking callers, and they even respond to questions via e-mail.
“Over the years we’ve seen people come up with many different ways to cook their holiday turkey, which has really kept our jobs interesting!” said Mary Clingman, director of the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line. As American society and cooking has evolved, the Talk-Line has kept pace, adding new information and services to meet the changing needs of holiday cooks.
Butterball Turkey Talk-Line Milestones
- 1981 — Butterball Turkey Talk-Line debuted with six operators and fielded 11,000 calls
- 1982 — One year later, the Talk-Line staff quadrupled to 27
- 1984 — Talk-Line went electronic, with computerized resource information and call tracking
- 1991 — Spanish language option added; Talk-Line received its millionth caller
- 1995 — www.butterball.com launched
- 2004 — Spanish-language Web site launched
25 Years of Turkey Talk-Line Milestones
1981: Experts Emerge
Realizing that many people were intimidated by preparing the annual Thanksgiving dinner, Butterball launched the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line to connect Americans with trained turkey experts. The question asked most that year was “How do I roast a picture-perfect turkey?” The Talk-Line recommended the Open Pan method, which remains the “gold standard” for preparing the traditional holiday centerpiece.
1982: Talk-Line Spreads Its Wings
Due to the success of the inaugural season (11,000 calls!), the Talk-Line bulked up its staff to 27 in 1982. Though more experts were behind the phones, calls were still tallied by hand with “tick marks” that the experts counted one-by-one for days after Thanksgiving to figure out call volume!
1983: Brown Bag It
From its beginning, the Talk-Line received calls on roasting turkey in a brown paper bag to “hold in” the juices. While this technique may be a family tradition passed down from generation to generation, the Talk-Line staff recommends the Open Pan Roasting method as the easiest and safest method.
1984: Low-Temperature Roasting
Early Talk-Line staffers received many questions on low-temperature roasting as a way to tenderize birds. However, this method cooks the turkey in the “danger zone“ (below 140 degrees) for too long, potentially allowing bacteria to grow; therefore, it was not encouraged by the Talk-Line staff.
1985: Microwaving Mania
How to microwave a whole turkey was the third most frequently asked Talk-Line question in 1985. At the time, many home economists and consumers thought this new invention would completely replace the oven. In response, Butterball staff perfected a microwave turkey cooking method and created a browning sauce to make the bird look beautifully golden-brown.
1986: Fresh Interest
During the 80’s an increasing number of women worked outside the home, so many families were looking for ways to simplify holiday meals.1 In 1986, questions to the Talk-Line about Butterball Fresh Turkeys increased dramatically, since they could go straight into the oven without time-consuming thawing.
1987: Back to Basics
With the stock market crash of 1987, a new generation of adults headed into the kitchen for the first time.2 These cooking novices wanted an easy, basic way to prepare their Thanksgiving turkey — just what the Talk-Line focuses on — thawing, cooking and evaluating doneness.
1988: Charcoal Grilling and Smoking
Prior to the prevalence of gas grills, charcoal grills roasted tons of turkey! Questions ranged from safe operation to marinades to cook time. The Talk-Line staff was ready, having tested a variety of cooking methods.
1989: Low-Fat Frenzy
During the late 1980’s people began to reduce dietary fat.3 Americans cut back on butter and cream in their Thanksgiving sides, and many nixed the heavy gravy on their centerpiece turkey.
1990: Oven Bags
The Talk-Line received a constant stream of calls regarding oven cooking bags in the late 80’s and early 90’s. While oven bags may save on clean-up time, the Talk-Line staff still found the Open Pan method could be used for all sizes of turkeys and gave a beautiful golden-brown appearance.
1991: In Love with Latin
The Latino population grew at a rate higher than that of the entire U.S. population in 1991 (53 percent Latino growth to 9.5 percent U.S. growth). Their cuisine caught on, too — salsas, chilies and other traditional Latin American flavors spiced up traditional Thanksgiving foods. The Talk-Line adapted to this trend as well, offering guidance for Spanish-speaking callers for the first time.
1992: Help for All
The Talk-Line launched two innovations in 1992: 1-800-TDD-3848 opened to help hearing and speech-impaired callers, and the Talk-Line number became open to Canadians.
1993: Food Safety Hits Home
In the early 90’s a new top question emerged — “How do I thaw a turkey so it’s safe to eat?“ The number two question involved safe handling (wash hands, don’t cross contaminate, and use a meat thermometer), and the fourth was about safe storage (refrigerate within two hours of serving).
1994: Open Pan Heats Up
In 1994, Butterball conducted an exhaustive study on open pan roasting to confirm optimal cooking times for today’s modern turkeys.4 Results showed that modern turkeys cooked faster, sometimes by as much as 30 minutes. Butterball roasting time guidelines were revised.
1995: Butterball Goes Online
As more Americans began to rely on the Internet for their information, Butterball launched www.butterball.com. During November and December, the site allowed consumers to e-mail the Talk-Line’s home economists — taking the Talk-Line to a new level.
1996: Turkey, Turkey, Everywhere
In the mid-90’s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that people were turning to turkey for more than Thanksgiving. Yearly turkey consumption increased to 18.8 pounds per person and turkey production rose to more than 5.2 billion pounds, largely due to the growth of processed turkey products like lunch meats.5
1997: Why Fry?
The Talk-Line started receiving many calls about deep frying turkey in 1997. Due to concerns about the safety of deep frying equipment, the Talk-Line does not recommend this method of preparation.
1998: Cyber-Cooks Creation
To meet the ever-growing needs of its online audience, the Talk-Line spent 1998 developing online versions of Butterball University — the turkey seminars all Talk-Line staff must complete in person each year. These online cooking classes covered thawing, carving and storing, among other topics.
Brining, or soaking a turkey in salt water, started popping up on many Talk-Line calls. Since frozen Butterball turkeys are pre-basted to maintain juiciness, they don’t need to be brined or basted at home.
2000: Easy Please!
During the 90’s, the number of meals eaten at home decreased by 14 percent. The trend continued in the new millennium as leisure time steadily declined.6 In response, Butterball developed easy-to-prepare, one-dish recipes and held a national contest for the best one-dish meal recipes.
2001 Fast-Forward to Fusion
Chefs boldly experimented with fusion cuisine — traditional holiday meals were mixed with Cajun tastes, American regional approaches, and international inspirations. To help families create these fresh new tastes, www.butterball.com added several culturally-inspired recipes.
With hot air currents that cook food more quickly, convection ovens are making their way into more homes and are roasting more turkeys each Talk-Line season. Cooks with this new technology in their kitchens often turn to the Talk-Line for help.
2003: Men at Work — in the Kitchen
Between 1986 and 2003, the percentage of calls from men nearly doubled, showing that men were taking a more active role in holiday help. A Butterball survey revealed that 58 percent of American men helped their wives or girlfriends with Thanksgiving meal preparation.
2004: Healthy Holiday
Given the popularity of the Atkins diet, Zone diet and South Beach diet among others, Americans spent the 2003 holiday cutting out extra carbs, fats and calories. Americans recognized that as a perfect protein, turkey was the healthiest, easiest part of their holiday meals.
2005: Counter Top Craze
What’s old is new again! Counter top rotisseries, crock pots and electric roasters are back in retro-style for 2005. With oven space at a premium during holiday meal prep, many people are looking for ways to outsource the turkey to the counter. The Talk-Line talks callers through the pros and cons of each cooking method and appliance.
A Chance for All to Celebrate
From Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, 2005, turkey fans across America can help celebrate the Talk-Line’s 25th Anniversary. The “Butterball’s Biggest Fan Contest” at www.butterball.com asks Web site visitors to explain why they’re a top turkey lover by submitting a brief essay and photo that demonstrates their passion for poultry. Butterball will award one grand prize winner new high-end kitchen appliances — either a refrigerator and built-in oven, or a range. Twenty-five runners-up will each receive a Butterball gift check worth $15. Complete information, entry forms and rules and regulations will be available at www.butterball.com beginning Oct. 1, 2005.
About Butterball and ConAgra Foods
Butterball, a brand of ConAgra Foods, Inc., is the nation’s leading brand of turkey. Based in Naperville, Ill., Butterball has served consumers for 50 years with a history of quality and consumer trust. For more information regarding Butterball, other related products and mouth-watering turkey recipes, visit the Butterball Web site at www.butterball.com.
ConAgra Foods, Inc. (NYSE: CAG) is one of North America’s largest packaged food companies, serving consumer grocery retailers, as well as restaurants and other foodservice establishments. Popular ConAgra Foods consumer brands include: ACT II, Armour, Banquet, Blue Bonnet, Brown ‘N Serve, Butterball, Chef Boyardee, Cook’s, Crunch ‘n Munch, DAVID, Decker, Eckrich, Egg Beaters, Fleischmann’s, Golden Cuisine, Gulden’s, Healthy Choice, Hebrew National, Hunt’s, Kid Cuisine, Knott’s Berry Farm, La Choy, Lamb Weston, Libby’s, Lightlife, Lunch Makers, MaMa Rosa’s, Manwich, Marie Callender’s, Orville Redenbacher’s, PAM, Parkay, Pemmican, Peter Pan, Reddi-wip, Rosarita, Ro*Tel, Slim Jim, Snack Pack, Swiss Miss, Van Camp’s, Wesson, Wolf and many others. For more information, visit www.conagrafoods.com.
Professional home economists and nutritionists staffing the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line are available for media interviews. For more information, please contact Bridget O’Malley at 312-BB-Media or email@example.com
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