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Butterball CEO talks turkey on brand, famous hotline

– Turkey isn’t just for Thanksgiving, says Butterball CEO Rod Brenneman.

Whether it’s turkey sausage for breakfast, turkey medallions on salad for lunch or roast turkey for dinner, Brenneman says he eats the bird at least once a day.

The company, based in Garner, N.C., estimates that it produces one out of every five turkeys for Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, Butterball is welcoming another first: Its famous Turkey Talk Line at 1-800-BUTTERBALL now will employ men. The toll-free line has been a resource for cooks with questions about preparing their holiday feasts since 1981.

Here are excerpts from the interview with Butterball’s Brenneman:

Q. Where did the name “Butterball” come from? And how do you feel about the term being used to describe chubby people?

A. Many people think Butterball turkeys have butter in them, but they don’t. Basically the name came about because of their plump size and golden color. We’re proud of the Butterball name. There is no talk or joke about being a butterball at this company. Only about our turkeys. They’re plump.

Q. Do you produce whole turkeys year round or just as you get closer to Thanksgiving?

A. Ten months out of the year, we’re producing whole turkeys and freezing them. Those are the frozen birds that you’re buying (for Thanksgiving). For October and November, we shift into what we call fresh season. Those birds are all fresh.

Q. So the turkey I buy could have been frozen a long time ago?

A. They’re frozen throughout the year. It could have been a month ago. It could have been three or four months ago. Either way, once they’re frozen, they maintain their quality and shelf life.

Q. What are some of the most common questions you get on the Turkey Talk line?

A. “How long does it take to thaw a turkey?”

Q. What are some of the more unusual questions you’ve had?

A. We had a time when the people had left their turkey outside all night. I guess it was really cold and it had snowed. They called and they wanted to know how to locate their turkey in the snow.

Q. Why did you decide to have men field calls?

A. One in four calls we get at the Turkey Talk Line are men, believe it or not. We stepped back and looked at the changing Thanksgiving table, and men are becoming more and more a part of, not only the carving of the turkey, but the cooking of the turkey.

Q. Do they have to go through any training?

A. Every single person who works on the Turkey Talk Line goes through Butterball University. They are trained from A-to-Z on turkey and turkey-related items.

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