“Larger customers have greater leverage,” says Quintin Frey, president of Turkey Hill Dairy, explaining how consolidation in the grocery industry has become a challenge for processors.
Frey poses an interesting strategy: “Getting to know your consumers in a way that counteracts the leverage.” And Turkey Hill excels at getting to know its consumers.
From its three giant cows visiting community events and its numerous annual charitable activities, to its Internet activities and the million samples of its new Duetto frozen dessert handed out last year, consumer contact is paying off huge dividends for the Conestoga, Pa.-based manufacturer of ice cream, fluid milk, teas and beverages. With a host of tasty products and a rich Lancaster County heritage, Turkey Hill sold more than 23 million gallons of frozen dairy desserts and 55 million gallons of beverages last year (the company declined to disclose a dollar figure).
“We try to bring the persona of the brand into our marketing,” explains Melissa Mattilio, consumer marketing manager. “When we develop new products, we ask if it’s true to us as a company.”
Turkey Hill keeps getting the right answers. This year, the company won the best overall award in the International Dairy Foods Association’s Achieving Excellence marketing contest for its mixed-media campaign to launch Duetto, a blend of vanilla soft-serve ice cream and one of four flavors of Venice Ice. The comprehensive marketing campaign included a TV spot, an out-of-home campaign, a dedicated product Web site and a trade- and consumer-focused public relations campaign.
Duetto was the result of Turkey Hill’s attempt to jump on a regional trend and also fight the rising cost of ice cream ingredients – and to finally start using Venice Ice, a trademark the company acquired about a decade ago. “There’s a push on the East Coast for gelati, a combination of water ice and ice cream, so we took that concept and ran with it,” says Thomas Wright, vice president of marketing, noting that the novel product was well received by consumer focus groups. “The idea of marrying soft serve and water ice was fairly unique. Once we explained the concept, they were convinced.”
With R&D hitting on the right formula for a scoopable product with strong fruit flavors reminiscent of the Italian water ice folks like Wright remember growing up with in Philadelphia, the marketing project began. “We challenged our ad agency to come up with a name that would ring with consumers and give it an upscale feeling,” Frey says.
After flirting with a tie-in with Italian tenors to play off the name, the Turkey Hill marketing team came up with the concept of the swirl-color cow to symbolize Duetto. The product now accounts for 4 percent of all Turkey Hill frozen sales, generating in excess of $7.5 million for more than 3 million units sold in 2007. The company has since added two more flavors to the Duetto line and spun off Venice Ice by itself in pints, available in the New York metro, Philadelphia and Pennsylvania markets.
Duetto is just the latest in a string of ongoing frozen dessert successes from Turkey Hill, which seems to have a real knack for jumping on trends as well as traditions near and dear to the hearts of consumers in its core northeastern U.S. marketing area. For example, the company has launched ice cream flavors honoring Philadelphia’s professional sports teams, co-branded with popular treats like Junior Mints and regional favorite Tastykake, and pursued ethnic palates with flavors like fried ice cream and tropical fruits. Strategic distribution lets Turkey Hill boast having the fourth-largest premium ice cream brand in the country.
Turkey Hill has been equally adept with its refrigerated tea offerings, a segment that has been heating up recently for dairies but one in which the company is no stranger. “We’re not Johnny-come-latelies to iced tea,” Frey says of Turkey Hill’s tea business of some 40 years. “We’re pretty active in new flavors. As ice cream people, you’re deep into flavors.”
As the first company to launch a refrigerated diet tea, Turkey Hill remains cutting edge by offering green, white, oolong and chai teas, along with lime, mango and the soon-to-be-released mojito varieties. “We were one of the first to introduce a line of white teas,” Frey says. “The health benefits associated with teas, and white teas in particular, have been part of our selling success.”
Such innovation has made Turkey Hill the No. 1 refrigerated iced tea brand in the country, available in 24 states, up from 14 a year ago. In particular, sales of green tea have shot up 300% in the past five years to 13.5 million gallons, out of a total of 46 million gallons. In June, the company launched four new TV spots to promote its teas, tripling its ad spending for the product to $3 million. The spots – under the theme of “Cold Fashioned for Freshness” – stress a “bottled cold, shipped cold, sold cold” message of frosty refreshment.
Turkey Hill tea drinkers make up some of the company’s most active consumers. There’s 90,000 of them signed up for bimonthly newsletters about newest flavors and news from Turkey Hill before the rest of the world finds out, Wright says. “We put out surveys to our core consumers,” he says. “We still get letters from people about dropping cherry iced tea 10 years ago.”
Even before the digital age, Turkey Hill was an early user of the toll-free call center to receive consumer inquiries and comments. “We also have a very active Web site and an active blog site,” Frey says. “We work hard on it. One of our key issues is our interaction with consumers.”
The company monitors consumer input on a monthly basis and looks for patterns in their responses to keep product offerings in line with demand. “A lot of people are calling to tell us what flavor we ought to do,” says James Hatfield, vice president of logistics and information services. “Our consumer base is loyal and we keep finding ways to communicate with them.”
Among those ways is Turkey Hill’s giant cows on trailers, which are booked months in advance for community events, especially in the summer. The company posts an event schedule on its Web site and details the cows’ adventures, from taking a bullet in New York to getting stuck under a highway overpass. They have had different paint jobs to promote promotions and products, and one cow spent a month touring Puerto Rico to introduce Turkey Hill products on the island.
One of the bovines was even offered as the top prize in Turkey Hill’s 75th anniversary sweepstakes two years ago, though Frey notes the winner opted for the cash equivalent. Leveraging the company’s Amish Country heritage, other prizes included manure and bales of hay – offered with tongue planted firmly in cheek, in the spirit of fun associated with dairy foods.
Beyond the hillTurkey Hill has made its way through half the country, recently going west to Colorado, Indiana and Tennessee via Kroger-owned stores. The company also is expanding business to the Southeast; Thomas Canuso, vice president of sales, notes that Turkey Hill products are currently in 400 Food Lion stores, with another 600 expected within a year (the North Carolina-based grocery retailer operates 1,200 stores in 11 Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic states).
Further western and southeastern expansion is expected, with arrival slated next year in convenience stores and supermarkets. “Currently, we’re in roughly 6,000 supermarkets, plus convenience stores, mom-and-pops and foodservice,” Canuso says.
Meanwhile in its core area, Turkey Hill is finding its way into new channels like major chain drug stores and dollar stores, says Steve Kangisser, vice president of business development. Its ice cream and beverages already are available in schools and hotels, and through vending channels. Further, the company’s products can be found in Puerto Rico, Bermuda, South America and even Japan, with opportunities evolving in the Middle East. “Our export business is growing,” Kangisser says.
Frey confirms that exporting presents a significant opportunity for the company as well as the dairy industry overall. “The large supply of dairy we have here – the best source for dairy – plus a weaker dollar makes exports more feasible,” he says.
The only hindrance to export activity, Frey asserts, is the price of oil, with which Turkey Hill has been grappling on many levels, as has the entire industry.
On the logistics side, Turkey Hill is in step with most other processors. “Like all other fleet operators, we focus on route effectiveness, engine idling and driver habits,” Hatfield says. “We’ve attempted to reach as high of an efficiency as we can. But fuel costs are what they are.”
The company has implemented a scan-based trading system with some DSD customers that has widened the selling window and allowed routes to be rescheduled accordingly. “From the standpoint of the environment, there are fewer vehicles on the road and fewer miles driven,” Frey says. “It has taken gallons of diesel burned out of the system.”
More opportunities for energy savings exist on the plant side in Turkey Hill’s two-pronged attack to “conserve and diversify,” explains John Cox, executive vice president. “Part of conserving is thinking of different ways to tackle the same problem.”
The company has invested in biogas conversion technology to allow its wastewater treatment plant to generate its own power. Through a partnership with the local power company, Turkey Hill is able to capture heat from its generators to create steam for plant use, which saves the equivalent of 200,000 gallons of diesel fuel.
Other conservation efforts include an automatic shut-off for the lighting system in the engine room and an arrangement with the local utility to power down during peak-use periods in the region. “We’ve been able to hold our operations energy cost level to slightly declined over the last three years,” Cox says.
Elsewhere, the company is looking at reducing its packaging materials. It got a head start two years ago when it switched its ice tea line from a heavy decanter-shaped bottle to a lighter-weight standard half-gallon bottle, Frey recalls, noting this move happened to coincide with the arrival of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast, which curtailed the nation’s supply of plastic resin.
Looking forwardAside from the 800-pound gorilla of energy costs, Frey lists volatility of commodities pricing, customer consolidation and the rise of private labels as key challenges to the industry.
“It’s a challenge to have products that are a must-have for consumers,” he says. “People will pay for something that tastes great and that’s new and innovative.”
Wright interjects: “That’s why it’s essential for the marketing group to stay creative with new products and marketing ideas and to keep in close contact with the consumers.”
The world is a more integrated place, which Frey says is both “an opportunity and a threat,” noting the impact of world events on the marketplace. “I’ve been in the business 30 years and have never seen commodity costs this high and this volatile.”
All the more reason, the Turkey Hill team says, to run a lean operation, “serving customers in such a way that drives waste out,” Cox says, “with a goal of serving them better.”
Thus, the perfect storm with environmental concerns. “Efficiency is green,” Frey says. “Being green is aligned with our goals of saving time, resources and money.”
The key is to strike a balance between what Hatfield calls the three main buzzwords whizzing around Turkey Hill: “traditional values,” “teamwork” and “technology.”
“We see technology enabling us, team work as essential and traditional values explaining who we are,” he says. “We work hard to bring a service element, providing people with tools to work.”
About four times a year, managers sit down with new hires to explain and reinforce the company’s core beliefs and make sure they’re committed to the mission of building a brand people can trust. “All our people understand the company and how it ties into the brand,” Cox says.
Another crucial component is the company’s relationship with the community. Frey explains that Turkey Hill’s good corporate citizenship is both altruistic and good for business. “It’s an area our company excels in. We truly believe we need to be good corporate citizens,” he says.
The company sponsors some 800 charities and community events annually, with cash and product donations (see “A Fan’s Perspective”). It’s also active in land conservation efforts.
With no doubt as to Turkey Hill’s mission, Frey looks forward to “continued steady growth” in the years ahead. “Probably our greatest potential for growth is right here in the Northeast. We have 25 percent of the U.S. population within a day’s drive. I’d like to see us in dominant market-share positions in five years.”
Toward that end, Turkey Hill will continue to leverage its slogan, “Imported from Lancaster County,” which through skillful marketing and education has become an enduring image even for consumers who’ve never set foot in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. It’s a brand identity of wholesomeness and quality that the company’s management team hopes will resonate beyond its traditional core.
So far, it seems to be working. As Mattilio says, “There are a lot of people who identify themselves as Turkey Hill people.”
HistoryIn the early 1930s in Lancaster County, Pa., farmer Armor Frey began supplementing his income by selling milk to a local dairy. When the price he got for his milk failed to supply an adequate income, Frey began bottling and selling milk door to door.
Competition to sell milk in Lancaster County was fierce, but Frey maintained an edge by underselling the other companies. Frey’s business thrived despite the impact of the Great Depression, and by 1935, Turkey Hill Dairy – named for the land on which it sits, along the Susquehanna River in southeastern Pennsylvania – opened its first processing plant.
In 1947, brothers Glenn, Emerson, and Charles Frey bought their father’s business. All the dairy’s customers still lived within a few miles. Milking the cows and running home delivery routes provided enough of a living for the young men to raise their families. Though the businesses were separate, Turkey Hill Dairy and Frey Dairy Farm shared office space in the same farmhouse. The entities were incorporated in 1959, and the farm, which passed into the ownership of brother Jay, continues to supply milk to Turkey Hill Dairy.
Turkey Hill began making ice cream commercially in 1954. Ice cream joined milk in home deliveries, with more than 30 routes by the end of the decade. In 1959, the company acquired D&B Frozen Specialties, and frozen meat pies and soups joined the home delivery service. Rechristened Supper Bell Foods, this part of the company was sold in 1984.
In 1980, the company expanded its ice cream production, quickly becoming a favorite in Lancaster County stores. A year later, the dairy persuaded a few independent stores in the Philadelphia area to give “Turkey Who?” a try, and Philadelphians loved it.
In addition to milk and ice cream, Turkey Hill has been a pioneer in refrigerated tea, regularly launching new varieties over the past four decades in what is currently a blossoming market segment.
In 1967, Turkey Hill opened its first Minit Market in what has become a popular Northeast chain of convenience stores, offering Turkey Hill dairy products, gasoline and other items.
Looking to acquire a convenience store chain in the eastern United States, Hutchinson, Kansas-based Dillon Cos., a subsidiary of the Kroger Co., acquired the Minit Markets in 1985 and agreed to buy the dairy as well at the Frey family’s request. The businesses were acquired separately and operate as such today; the Minit Markets are the largest single customer of Turkey Hill Dairy.
The dairy, still managed by the Frey family, remains a largely autonomous unit of its corporate parent; Armor’s grandson, Quintin Frey, is now president and one of his sons also works in the business. In addition to growing domestic distribution, the company also exports ice cream to Latin America, the Caribbean and Saudi Arabia.
Today, consumers up and down the East Coast enjoy products “Imported from Lancaster County,” including milk, ice cream, frozen novelties, refrigerated teas and other beverages. Turkey Hill’s mission is to build a brand people can trust – a good product that’s priced so everyone can enjoy it.
SOURCES: “Turkey Hill: A Family Vision,” turkeyhill.com.
Sidebar: A Fan's PerspectiveAny number of things can influence a purchase – color, packaging, familiarity with the company that is making the product. One of the factors that also can contribute a great deal – and I say this with great authority, after taking an informal poll among my girlfriends – is a perception of corporate stewardship.
Loosely, corporate stewardship is defined as the decision a company makes to allocate its resources according to its ethical values and economic mission. While visiting Turkey Hill Dairy, I was particularly impressed with how committed the company is to bettering its community, both local and in a larger sense of the word.
Turkey Hill is located in the lush farmland of Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County, an area known for a simple rural lifestyle, strong work ethic and family ties, and a fervent desire to preserve heritage and community integrity. Turkey Hill feels a strong responsibility to preserve and maintain the area that provides the resources that support them, and thus donates a portion of the proceeds of sales of its All Natural ice cream line to the Lancaster Farmland Trust. In addition, the dairy sponsors events such as the Turkey Hill Country Classic, a day of bike and running races, and other family events to raise money for the trust.
Turkey Hill also works with Philadelphia-based sports teams, the NFL’s Eagles and MLB Phillies, to support their efforts with local children. Sales of Eagles Touchdown Sundae ice cream help support the Eagles’ Youth Partnership, and sales of Philly Graham Slam support Phillies Charities, as do additional donations the company makes for every Phillies victory.
Turkey Hill’s philanthropic efforts have also come in other forms, such as ice cream and resources donated for a local community center’s summer festival/fund-raiser and a contest that found a local high school the recipient of an ice cream party, complete with an ice cream stacking contest.
Bottom line, I’m a fan of Turkey Hill’s ice cream. Knowing how the company uses the proceeds to help make this a better world just makes it that much easier for me to buy it.
-- Amy Vodraska, associate publisher
The Turkey Hill Family of ProductsTurkey Hill is perhaps most well known for its extensive line of unique and innovative frozen desserts, ranging from traditional mainstays to limited-edition flavors and regional favorites, as well as its market-leading frozen yogurt line.
The company’s line of premium ice cream comes in at least 30 flavors, plus a rotating assortment of limited-edition varieties and concoctions unique to the area, like Eagles Touchdown Sundae and Phillies Graham Slam, honoring the region’s professional sports teams. The All Natural Recipe ice cream range features Chocolate, Coffee, Mint Chocolate Chip, Neapolitan, Nutty Neapolitan and Vanilla Bean. There are also light and no-sugar-added varieties. Ice cream is offered in 3-gallon bulk, 1.5 quart containers and pints, depending on the flavor.
Creamy Commotions is an inclusion-rich pint line that includes flavors co-branded with strong regional brands like Philadelphia’s Tastykake snack cakes and Snyder’s of Hanover pretzels.
In 2008, Turkey Hill fortified their Light Recipe and Frozen Yogurt lines with vitamin D and calcium, making all the light flavors and most of the yogurt lines an excellent source of both nutrients.
Newest to the lineup is Turkey Hill’s powerhouse, Duetto, which has been a breakout hit with consumers. Available in pints and 1.5-quart scrounds, this frozen dessert swirls vanilla ice cream with cherry, lemon, mango or raspberry Venice Ice; two limited-edition varieties offer root beer ice swirled with vanilla ice cream and coconut ice with chocolate ice cream. Venice Ice is also available on its own in pints, in mango, raspberry, blueberry pomegranate with açai and a lemon and cherry swirl.
Low-fat and fat-free frozen yogurt is available in 1.5-quart cartons in eight flavors, a semiannual feature flavor selection, plus four “Frozen Yogurt Smoothies” that swirl frozen yogurt with Venice Ice. An assortment of sherbets rounds out the packaged lines. Novelties include wafer and cookie sandwiches, sundae cones, and 7.5-ounce cups.
In addition to a traditional milk selection, Turkey Hill offers its Cool Moos plastic pint line of whole, 2%, chocolate and strawberry milk.
The company’s popular iced tea line encompasses a wide assortment of flavors in pints, half gallons and gallons. Teas and beverages with added health benefits are marketed under the Nature’s Accents banner, which includes green, white, oolong, fruit-enhanced and chai-spiced teas offered in pint bottles, with some diet versions available. T-Blast is Turkey Hill’s tea-based energy drink with taurine, gaurana, and B vitamins, offered in pint cans.
Finally, fruit flavors include traditional Lemonade as well as Raspberry, Strawberry Kiwi and Pink Lemonade, Orangeade and the new Limonade packaged in pints, half gallons and gallons.