6 December 1996

12m turkeys predicted to sell at Xmas

By Tim Relf

STRONG demand looks set to underpin poultry prices this Christmas.

Consumer spending on turkey meat, for example, was £355m in the year to November, according to the British Turkey Information Service. Thats 28% up on the previous 12 months.

The meat scores well on convenience, versatility and healthiness. Theres the knock-on effect of BSE, too.

While this years market has been driven by portions, whole birds still account for almost half the total volume. Sales of whole birds in the Christmas period, however, are expected to total 2m less than last year, when they reached 14m.

This reflects later retail promotions and therefore fewer repeat purchases, according to the BTIS.

Retailers are being less aggressive on pricing too, with frozen birds at about 39p/lb this year, compared with nearer 30p/lb in 1995. The higher prices in no way reflect a shortage of supplies, says the BTIS.

But at Colchester, Essex, auctioneer Graham Ellis reckons fresh birds will be harder to find. Hes expecting to sell one-third fewer than last year.

"While large-scale producers remain committed, the smaller poultry farmer – especially if the enterprise only makes a small contribution on a mixed farm – has left the business as farm workforces continue to shrink."

"Birds in the 10-12lb range will, once again, be more difficult to sell, as this is the weight favoured by the supermarkets."

At the marts sale of dead birds, prices could be between 80p and 90p/lb, with the best at about 120p/lb reckons Mr Ellis.

Such values are also expected by John Lines, who sells at Aylsham, Norfolk. Live birds, meanwhile, will be making between 65p and 90p/lb, he adds.

More stringent regulations have discouraged people from keeping turkeys and contributed to tightening supplies, says Mr Lines.

But Chris Frederick, vice-chairman of the Traditional Farm Fresh Turkey Association, reckons the supply and demand situation could push deadweight auction prices well over the £1/lb-mark.

And oven-ready, farm-gate sales will be pitched at between £2.35 and £2.40/lb, he says, with a 25-30p/lb premium for bronze birds.

Geese sales, meanwhile, are expected to grow another 5% this Christmas, taking the market to about 500,000.

While only accounting for a small part of the poultry market, their healthy, naturally-reared reputation underpins demand, says John Adlard, chairman of the British Goose Producers Association. And consumers may buy a goose as a change from other Christmas meats.

Farm-gate prices of oven-ready geese are likely to be about 7% up on last year, with most between £2.50 and 2.60/lb, in some cases rising to £3.00/lb.