12 December 1997

Big retailers push turkey at 49p/lb

By Tim Relf

CHEAP supermarket promotions are again undermining the Christmas poultry market.

Big retailers are pitching frozen turkey at about 49p/lb, in an attempt to pull punters through the doors.

"Its a big loss-leader," says Paul Kelly of the Traditional Farm Fresh Turkey Association. And it comes after a spell of downward pressure on poultry prices, compared with 1996 when demand shot up after the collapse in the beef market.

Further BSE revelations last week, however, may divert consumer interest back to poultry. Although, as Mr Kelly says: "Its not the kind of help we want."

The impact of the government ban on bone-in beef sales was immediately felt in Chessovale, the shop belonging to Bucks turkey farmer Henry Slator. "It went cuckoo," says Mr Slator, who sold half the weeks anticipated turkey mince volume last Friday alone. "It was like gold dust. Just seemed to flow out the store," he says.

While pressure on the poultry market has been downwards, farm fresh birds remain a strong niche market. The gap between them and the mass-produced item gets wider and wider, adds Mr Kelly.

Farm-gate prices of fresh turkey will be between £2 and £3/lb this year, he reckons. Birds sold to butchers will make about £1.80/lb.

Such a specialist bird

Nowadays, only a small number go through auction markets, he says. "Most are grown on order. They are such a specialist bird that if you end up having to dump them on the market, you can lose a fortune."

Ron Wales of the British Turkey Federation expects to see 12m fresh and frozen turkeys sold in the six-week run-up to Christmas. Thats about the same as last year.

Sales for much of the year, however, have been 17% down on the buoyant 1996 when shoppers, disillusioned with beef, filled their baskets with other meats.

Long term, the turkey market continues to grow. The meats low fat, high protein status is a principal factor, says Mr Wales. And, as the issue of traceability becomes ever more important, so the domestic product will score against imports, he adds.

A healthy image will also contribute to another 5% growth in goose sales to between 500,000 and 600,000 this Christmas, according to the British Goose Producers Association.

"The feel-good flavour," says Association chairman John Adlard. Geese will be making about £2.50/lb at the farm gate in the coming weeks, he says.