WILLMAR, Minn. — While people are preparing their Thanksgiving Day turkeys next month they’ll also be able to watch a homegrown turkey business on TV during Macy’s annual holiday parade.

As part of its 80th anniversary, the Willmar-based Jennie-O Turkey Store will celebrate in a spectacular way by having a float in the 94th annual event on Nov. 26.

It’s the first time a turkey brand will be in the parade, according to a Macy’s parade spokesperson.

Because of COVID-19, the traditional live broadcast of the parade is being retooled with a decreased number of participants and the production staged specifically for a television audience.

A sneak peek at the behind-the-scenes construction of the Jennie-O Turkey Store float that will be in the Nov. 26 Thanksgiving Day parade in New York. Photo courtesy of Jennie-O Turkey Store
A sneak peek at the behind-the-scenes construction of the Jennie-O Turkey Store float that will be in the Nov. 26 Thanksgiving Day parade in New York. Photo courtesy of Jennie-O Turkey Store

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Dubbed the “Big Turkey Spectacular,” the float will showcase the company that was started eight decades ago in west central Minnesota by the Earl B. Olson family.

Many of the Jennie-O turkeys are raised in this area, with two processing facilities and a corporate office located in Willmar.

When planning ways to celebrate its 80th anniversary, the company decided to “think big” and display “unapologetic” pride in its turkeys and the people who raise them, process them and sell them, said Nicole Behne, vice president of marketing for the Jennie-O Turkey Store.

Nicole Behne, vice president of marketing at the Jennie-o Turkey Store.
Nicole Behne, vice president of marketing at the Jennie-o Turkey Store.

Being in a parade on a day when the turkey is featured on many tables is a natural fit for the Jennie-O Turkey Store.

“We could not be more excited,” said Behne in a telephone interview Friday afternoon.

The company had to submit an application and be interviewed before being accepted in the parade lineup, which includes a commitment to have a float in the parade for three years.

A sneak-peak at the behind-the-scene construction of the Jennie-O Turkey Store float that will be in the Nov. 26 Thanksgiving Day parade in New York. Photo courtesy of Jennie-O Turkey Store
A sneak-peak at the behind-the-scene construction of the Jennie-O Turkey Store float that will be in the Nov. 26 Thanksgiving Day parade in New York. Photo courtesy of Jennie-O Turkey Store
The Jennie-O inaugural float is being made in New Jersey. Behne said they are working with the Macy’s parade organization on the talent and costumes for the float and they expect to make an announcement early next month naming the key entertainer on the float.

While she said she could not reveal what the float will look like, Behne said it will have a positive energy, a good vibe and glitter.

“Glitter will be a big part of our float and it will be true to who we are,” she said.

“We are very authentic to what this parade has stood for,” said Behne, who praised the folks at Macy’s for their help with coordinating the float and other aspects of participating in the parade.

In conjunction with the float, Jennie-O will launch a new social media campaign called the “Turkey Day Spectacular Sweepstakes” that invites people to create their own homemade Thanksgiving Day parade floats for a virtual parade.

Videos of the floats can be submitted on a special page on the company’s website, parade.jennieo.com. Entries can also be submitted to the company’s Facebook, Instagram or Twitter accounts with the hashtag #MacysParade and #TurkeyDaySpectacular.

Participants will have a chance to win a trip to New York next year to watch the Thanksgiving Day parade.

In light of the challenges COVID has presented this year, Behne said the company is “so excited to have something happy to celebrate.”

The company is also putting a new twist on their turkey hotline number this year, which is available starting Nov. 2 by dialing 1-800-TURKEYS.

Because COVID means more people may be hosting small gatherings and cooking a Thanksgiving turkey for the first time by themselves instead of going to grandmother’s house, Behne said their helpline will have a wider variety of help options this year.

They are also providing recipes for Thanksgiving leftovers and ideas for incorporating turkey into family menu planning for the rest of the year.