🍟 11/23/2022 Thanksgiving Special: Why Isn’t Turkey On Fast-Food Menus? 🦃


Why Isn’t Turkey On Fast-Food Menus?

Over the years, fast-food franchises have increased their menu size exponentially. 

In the 1960’s, McDonald’s only sold burgers, fries, and coca-cola. Today, you can get breakfast, lunch and dinner, with meals ranging from pancakes and eggs, chicken sandwiches, and even fish filet. 

Additionally, fried chicken sandwiches, and fried chicken restaurants in general have especially increased in popularity recently. 

Popeyes, KFC, and Chick-Fil-A get all the headlines, but then you have Raising Cane’s, Dave’s Hot Chicken, Zaxby’s, Church’s Chicken, Bojangles, and wayyy more.

Yet, despite being a very comparable form of protein, turkey items are 99.9% absent on the menu of fast food restaurants in America.

This runs contrary to the fact that turkey is the star of the show in Thanksgiving feasts every year, and companies like Disney serve up 2.5 million pounds of turkey legs at their parks each year.

So what gives? Why isn’t the ol’ bird fried up by the masses just like their chicken counterparts?

Well…I don’t have a firm, clear-as-day answer, but there are some likely reasons. But before getting to why turkey isn’t on fast-food menus, let’s explore why it could work in the first place. 

Why Turkey Has QSR Potential


Just about anything you can do with chicken, you can do with turkey. And that doesn’t come from me, that comes from Butterball, the king of Turkey in America. 

Turkey is presented in many forms:

  • Deli meat
  • Ground turkey
  • Turkey burgers
  • The full on bird that we eat on Thanksgiving

And if companies put resources behind it, they can come up with some cool creations.

Perdue, the massive food supplier known for their chicken, is a great example. 

For a limited time in 2020 – they released ThanksNuggets – and let me tell ya, as a grown man, I have no problem admitting I’d have eaten these nuggets for dinner with the excitement of a 5 year old.

The creation combined all the flavors of Thanksgiving into two versions of bite-sized nuggets: one includes dark turkey meat blended with a cranberry sauce and stuffing flavor, while the other has white turkey meat “inspired” by the flavor of sweet potato. 

Unfortunately, they only sold 100 bags, which subsequently sold out in under 3 minutes. 


In terms of the health benefits (not that QSRs care), turkey breast meat has 8 grams of protein per ounce, compared to 9 grams for chicken. 

Meanwhile, meat from turkey wings provides the same amount of protein per ounce, at 9 grams. 

Overall, it’s a lean form of protein that is effectively on par with chicken, and beats out pork and beef.

Stats are per Healthline

(Potential) Demand

While QSRs don’t necessarily care about how healthy their food is, they do care about customer demand. And turkey based meals could very well have it.

Check out these states per a Technomic poultry report:

  • 42% of consumers say restaurants should offer more turkey-centric dishes outside of the holidays
  • 78% of consumers believe turkey is healthy or very healthy, which is tied with chicken at No. 1
  • 63% of consumers say they enjoy turkey burgers 
  • 50% of millennials want to see more turkey burgers on menus 
  • 67% of consumers see themselves eating a turkey product for breakfast i.e. turkey bacon, sausage, etc. 
Butterball’s buffalo turkey burger creation

The numbers don’t lie – turkey is a food option that people seem to want!

But Why Isn’t It On Menus?

Let’s be honest…I’m not the first person to ponder this dilemma with Thanksgiving approaching. I mean, surely fast-food exec’s at the big players like Yum! Brands, McDonald’s, and others have thought about this. 

Regardless, the two biggest reasons I found for why we don’t see turkey: 

  1. Again, according to Butterball, cross-utilization is a challenge. When a chain or franchise has an established menu and supply chain, their goal is to maximize the efficiencies of it, and use the same ingredients as many times over. This increases the profit dollars they can generate from their cost of goods sold. By adding turkey to the menu – not only does that require a massive effort from different departments in an organization (supply chain, marketing, etc.), but it starts out (relative to beef, chicken, etc.) as an inefficient menu item.
  1. The size of turkey’s could be an issue. Yes, that’s right – this changes the calculus when you look at how tight they pack chickens at facilities of massive chicken suppliers and processors. For context, check out the pictures below – one of a chicken facility, and the other of a wild turkey. Sure, there’s more meat per turkey, but scaling turkey products at scale hasn’t been done yet. 

Can you imagine a factory full of wild turkeys?! Caging them up is a different animal (pun intended) than chicken .

Closing Thoughts

If you’re a diehard turkey fan, it’s not all doom & gloom. Butterball did have some encouraging news. To quote them,

The fried chicken sandwich has certainly gotten a lot of buzz over the last few years and it’s louder again recently. As with the burger wars of the 1980s and 1990s, it will eventually be replaced by another “hot” item. It’s just the nature of the business.

That next “hot” item? My bet is the turkey burger will eventually be a staple on a few QSR menus, and likely some fast-casuals even sooner.

But until that day comes…we’ll have to enjoy turkey predominantly over the holidays.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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