Charted: China’s growing appetite for American turkey

Rising demand.
Rising demand.
Image: Reuters/Mike Segar
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Today (Nov.26), families and friends across the US will be gorging on turkey. But by some accounts, a growing number of diners in China did too. Over the past decade, China has increased the amount of frozen whole turkeys it imports from the US:

In 2003, the country imported just $69,000 worth of frozen US turkeys; by 2014, that figure had risen to $954,000. Both are pretty small numbers, to be sure, even including other bits of chopped turkey, chilled bits, or turkey offal, China imported a total of just $50 million of turkey products from the US last year, compared with about $250 million in chicken goods. But the demand for whole, frozen turkeys has been on a bumpy but upward trajectory, and it has plenty more room to rise yet.

What’s interesting about the demand is that turkey is almost never seen on menus across China. And the bird is famous for its blandness even among stereotypically bland-loving Western palates, which leaves one wondering what’s behind the meat’s recent rise in popularity.

A closer look at Chinese imports suggests demand for the bird spikes in the autumn and winter quarters, and that spike has become more pronounced in recent years:

It might be that Thanksgiving, the most American of holidays, is finding a new audience in China. But this reporter at least has seen no evidence of that so far, unless you count the bars that use the holiday (often translated as “Turkey Festival”) as a chance to drum up business.