Disneyland China falls a-fowl of huge turkey leg demand

Visitors walk past a gate at Disneyland Resort in Shanghai. The park, which opened in June last year, sells thousands of turkey legs, glazed in a special Disney-recipe hoisin sauce, every day.
Visitors walk past a gate at Disneyland Resort in Shanghai. The park, which opened in June last year, sells thousands of turkey legs, glazed in a special Disney-recipe hoisin sauce, every day.

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Over nearly a century, Disney has exported United States culture across the globe, but the company was astonished to find one slice of Americana wildly popular in China - the turkey leg.

The entertainment giant opened its US$5.5-billion (S$7.6-billion) theme park in Shanghai in June last year, expecting to shift mainly bok choy, Mickey Pork Buns and Minnie Red Bean Buns to hungry customers.

"If you go to Disneyland or Disney World, we sell gigantic turkey legs - they're like the size of my arm," Mr Bob Iger, chairman and chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Company, told reporters on Wednesday (July 12).

"And when I heard we were putting them on the menu in Shanghai, I thought our group was crazy. Why are we selling turkey legs in China?"

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Mr Iger was quickly proved wrong, however. Glazed in a special Disney-recipe hoisin sauce, thousands of the turkey legs began selling every day.

"We were there a few weeks ago for the anniversary and we sold 4,500 in one day. We couldn't buy enough of them," he said at a panel for the international press in the company's Burbank, California, studio lot.

Demand for the juicy snack quickly grew to 4,000 units a day in Shanghai alone - more than Disney's Polish supplier could manage - and buyers were sent to track down more of the poultry legs in South America.

"That surprised us, and there were other things about food that surprised us - not bad, by the way, just things that we had to adjust to," said Mr Iger.

Incorrect rumours that the turkey legs sold at its theme parks are emu meat have circulated online for years, boosted most recently by a March 9 segment on TBS' Conan talk show.

In fact, they look bigger than normal turkey legs simply because they are from male turkeys, not female, which Americans are used to seeing in their traditional Thanksgiving meals.

Shanghai Disneyland - Disney's sixth theme park and third in Asia - pulled in nearly a million visitors within its first month of operation.

From the traditional peony flower on the castle to murals that replace the animals of the Chinese zodiac with Disney characters, the company is aiming to be culturally aware.

Shanghai received an early introduction to Disney when the animated film Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs showed in the city's cinemas in 1938.

In the 1980s, classic Disney cartoons aired on Chinese state television, while more recently, hit movies such as Zootopia have introduced new characters, which Shanghai Disneyland features in its parade.

Zootopia, in particular, is cited as an example of China embracing Hollywood after it became Disney's most successful animation in the world's second largest box office, scooping US$236 million.

Mr Sean Bailey, president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production, said the company is scouring China to cast actors for Mulan, a live-action version of its 1998 animated hit based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan.

"Many of us have been spending a great deal of time in China for a number of reasons, including the opening of the park in Shanghai. So Mulan is something we've been eyeing for a long time," he said.