The well-publicised threat of avian influenza has put the brakes on turkey marketing this year, according to the National Farmers Union.

The usual pre-Christmas advertising has been markedly less prominent than in recent years, claimed Maria Ball, NFU chief poultry adviser, but orders nonetheless started strongly in November.

“People were worried they weren’t going to get their turkeys because of bird flu,” she said.

“We didn’t feel that it was appropriate to promote fresh turkey in the same way as last year, when journalists were encouraged to go on farm and talk directly to farmers.”

Over Christmas in 2003, she said the NFU secured media coverage for members worth 2m in PR terms.

But this approach sat ill with the NFU’s advice for poultry producers to raise levels of biosecurity to guard against bird flu.

Sales of fresh turkeys at this time of year are on the increase, supporting a number of branding initiatives which focus on quality.

One such is the Traditional Farm-fresh Turkey Association, whose 60 members sell traditionally reared birds through independent butchers and farm shops around the UK.

Production has risen 50% to 150,000 birds over the past five years, with retail values of around 9/kg, according to Abingdon-based producer Bill Homewood.

“The wholesale market through butchers is a bit fickle but, though it’s been slower than last year, I think it’ll go mad in the last week.”

Multiple retailers reported business as usual for fresh turkey sales.

A Morrisons’ spokeswoman said: “Customers are looking forward to a traditional turkey dinner taking centre stage as normal, this year.”