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The cult of the free, frozen ShopRite turkey: A new-ish Thanksgiving tradition

Rebecca King
NorthJersey

In many suburban homes, getting a free frozen ShopRite turkey on Thanksgiving has become a tradition just as vital to the holiday season as watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or playing a family game of touch football.

It’s been years since many Thanksgiving hosts have paid even a penny for the golden, glistening centerpiece of their meal.

What they did buy is $400 of groceries between Oct. 20 and Thanksgiving to qualify for that free turkey.

This is how it works: shoppers scan their Price Plus card (ShopRite’s rewards program) every time they buy groceries, which keeps track of dollars spent. If they spend $400 within the allotted time, they’re eligible to pick up a free Thanksgiving dish (turkey is just one of the rewards) this year until Nov. 28.

The story continues below the video.

The Price Plus card is tracked through phone numbers, so those with a Price Plus account but no card can enter their phone number to get the points.

The “free” items available include a ShopRite brand turkey up to 21 pounds, $1.49-per-pound off any other fresh or frozen whole turkey including kosher turkeys, a Cook’s Shank half-smoked ham up to 12 pounds, a kosher frozen roasting chicken up to 5 pounds, a Stouffer’s party-sized lasagna, and a 56-ounce tofurkey.

For some, spending $400 in two weeks is a breeze. Heather Van of Hawthorne, for example, has a family of five and says it took her a little over two weeks to spend the requisite money.

For others, strategy is involved.

Julie Berardi from Hopatcong calls her mother and sister when she’s close to breaking $400 and asks them to put in her phone number when they’re checking out, and vice-versa. “If we all get [the turkey], then we put our orders under my step dad’s card,” she said. Two weeks out from Thanksgiving she was $2 away from $400, her sister was $200 away and her mom $40.

Ashleigh Sullivan of Boonton Township has another ritual.

“My mom and grandma and I all have our own ShopRite cards, but we all shop using one card at a time on our individual trips,” she said. “We always wind up getting all three, but we still do it this way every year.”

Sapphire Aragon of Dover joins forces with her mother, aunt and grandmothers to make the limit. “Sometimes we buy pointless additions to make those last few dollars.”

Karen Meleta, ShopRite's vice president of Consumer and Corporate Communications, reports that the free turkey promotion began in the mid-'80s.

“We would literally put envelopes in our circular so you could collect your receipts. When you had sufficient sales, you would bring those up to the courtesy desk and get a free turkey," she said.

The superstore budgets it as part of its promotional programs, which is how it says it can afford to give out so many free birds.

"We're rewarding our most loyal shoppers," said Meleta. "They count on getting one every year."

ACME is also in the free turkey game. Bring in the “free turkey” coupon found in ACME’s weekly flyer and spend $100 in a single transaction through Nov. 22, and you’re looking at a free Signature Farms, Jennie-O or ACME-brand frozen turkey.

This option is much more wallet-friendly for people under a tight budget.

“I don’t think it’s really a good deal for some people if they have to go out of their way and struggle to hit that $400 mark,” said Van. “[Turkeys] aren’t that expensive, so for someone who can’t hit that mark probably benefits from just buying the $20 turkey. I get the free turkey because it’s my go-to store, but I’d never go there just to get the turkey.”

A frozen "All Natural" turkey from ShopRite costs about $1.49 per pound on a typical day, or $31.29 for a 21-pound turkey. ACME's "Fresh Market Gold Standard" turkey goes for $2.09, or $43.89 for a 21-pounder. So, the ShopRite and ACME deals are undoubtedly money-savers, if shoppers are already purchasing the $400 or $100 of groceries, respectively.

But, according to Aimee Focaraccio, the director of NB C.A.R.E.S, a North Bergen organization that runs community events and charity drives, the changes in ShopRite's free turkey deal may have hurt some people from being able to get turkey for Thanksgiving.

Ray Soto of Vineland donates his free ShopRite turkey to Project Thanksgiving at the ShopRite of Millville on Saturday, Nov. 19. Photo/Jodi Streahle

In past years ShopRite has only required $300 to be spent and has given people more time to reach the price goal. By increasing the amount of money to $400 and shortening the window of time, Focaraccio believes more low-income families in North Bergen no longer qualify to get the free turkey, meaning they'll need to receive one from NB C.A.R.E.S.

Six years ago, Focaraccio gave out about 50 gift cards each year to families in need. Now NB C.A.R.E.S. collects and purchases 1,500 turkeys for North Bergen residents.

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And yet, one definite positive this program has engendered is an unexpected sense of goodwill toward men.

The Facebook group “Bergen County NJ Moms” is full of people offering to enter in the phone numbers of strangers close to reaching $400 when they check out so they can get a free turkey. And many others have donated their unused frozen turkeys to drives held for those in need.

ShopRite itself has donated 60 tons of free turkeys to food banks, said Meleta. Other supermarkets like ACME, Stop & Shop and Kings Food Market have also donated turkeys in years past.

“I will say," reported Focaraccio, "the majority of the turkeys donated are those free turkeys from ShopRite."

Rebecca King is a food writer for NorthJersey.com. For more on where to dine and drink, please subscribe today and sign up for our North Jersey Eats newsletter.

Email: kingr@northjersey.com Twitter: @rebeccakingnj  Instagram: @northjerseyeats