By FWi staff

A SLOWDOWN in growth of the turkey sector could give producers a real headache in the run-up to the Millennium.

Turkey sales are slowing, despite substantial gains over the five years to 1997, according to a recent review by the British Turkey Industry Service (BTIS).

But many within the industry sees the problem as a short-term issue caused by market disruption during the BSE crisis, rather than any long-term trend.

The value of the market boomed by 30% from £278 million to £362m, according to BTIS figures.

At the same time, annual consumption increased by 1kg per person, reaching 5.1kg as the estimated figure for 1998.

But the primary market peaked in 1996 at almost exactly 100,000 tonnes, and dropped the following year by 11% or 11,000 tonnes.

The market is expected to fall by a further few percentage points this year.

Over the last two years, rolls, roasts and further processed products have played a leading role.

But meat plants prefer fewer, larger birds rather than smaller ones, which are more troublesome to process.

The pattern of UK poult placings is sharply down and the 12-month rolling total to last October fell 11% to its the lowest since 1990, at 36.1 million.

Nevertheless, recent BTIS market research claims that more than a third of shoppers cook with turkey once a week.

The number of households serving turkey at least once a month has risen to 19%, and is starting to catch up with lamb at 25%.