Convenience remains key for turkey producers looking to boost seasonal sales.

Sales of whole birds were down for Christmas 2012, with customers preferring to purchase turkey crowns and cuts, butchers and producers were told at the January “post-mortem” meeting of the Anglian Turkey Association.

“As with a lot of butchery, we found that preparing the bird for the oven is the way to go,” said Andy Jackson of The Food Company, an upmarket retail food outlet, delicatessen and restaurant at Marks Tey, Essex.

“Customers like to know they can come in, take it home, put it in the oven and half an hour later they can be eating it. People are shrewder. They don’t want to be preparing a turkey so we are specialising in birds that are ready for the oven.”

Sales of whole birds were down by as much as 50% for Christmas 2012, said Mr Jackson. But sales of turkey products and butterflies had nearly doubled – an increase that had seen demand now quadruple over the past four years.

“They are still people who will only buy a whole bird at Christmas, but there are a whole lot more out there who won’t,” Mr Jackson told the meeting at Prested Hall, Feering, Essex, on 8 January. “We sold about 40 whole white birds, but we also sold 180 turkey breasts.”

“People use butchers at Christmas time because they want a decent bit of meat, but supermarkets are selling turkeys cheaper than I can buy them.”
George Debman

Farm retailers could increase margins by being more innovative, said Mr Jackson. It was possible to sell a stuffed turkey crown for £10/kg – even though 800g was stuffing costing as little as 80p. “If farmers aren’t doing that at the farmgate, they are missing out,” he said.

Mr Jackson added that he froze turkey legs and thighs to be made into sausages later in the year. “We wait about five weeks when people have forgotten all about turkey and then turn them into sausages with a little bit of sage. They fly off the shelves.”

Ipswich butcher George Debman told the meeting his turkey sales had fallen over the past four years. “People use butchers at Christmas time because they want a decent bit of meat, but supermarkets are selling turkeys cheaper than I can buy them,” he said.

With customers buying turkeys later in the run-up to Christmas, Mr Debman said he was considering halving the number of birds he buys from the farm and buying them instead from market two days before Christmas.

“Something is wrong somewhere,” said Mr Debman, who added that he could buy English turkey butterflies for as little as £3.69 wholesale. “Butchers are selling a premium product and there are people out there who will pay for it – but they are becoming fewer and farther between.”

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