Robert Caldecott

Caldecott Turkey Farms, Wythall, Worcestershire

Steady expansion and learning from his peers has seen Robert Caldecott grow his business from a few geese for Christmas to a supplier of premium poultry to some of the finest kitchens in the land.

Caldecott Turkey Farms is a major producer of birds destined for butchers, wholesalers and restaurants for the Christmas trade, but also rears some 4,200 free-range chickens a week for similar markets.

Robert Caldecott

© Richard Stanton

The product is pitched as a solid middle-market offering – a premium, high-quality bird without pricing out the majority of consumers that occasionally want to spend a bit more, rather than something ultra-expensive and organic, for example.

See also: Farmers Weekly Awards 2016: Poultry Farmer of the Year finalists revealed

The turkeys and chickens sold are effectively a retail butcher’s bird. Where Robert has been successful is in growing sales in a market that has moved away from British whole birds to portions and imports.

Farm facts

  • Major producer of seasonal turkey and year-round business offering free-range chicken
  • Poultry grown on owned and contracted sites across Worcestershire and beyond
  • Birds predominantly sold under Robert’s own name
  • Key staff responsible for running farms and slaughterhouse
  • Well-developed plans for succession

About 15 wholesalers serving 400 butchers take the bulk of output. In addition, 80 butchers are supplied directly – the Royal Windsor Farm Shop having the highest profile.

Despite a focus on long-term partnerships, no one customer takes more than 25% of the business – one example of Robert’s cautious, methodical approach.

An important consideration is also selling under his own brand to distinguish his product.

Buying in raw materials and sales and marketing form Robert’s main daily tasks, while experienced, well-paid managers oversee the farms and slaughterhouse.

That man looking after agriculture has spent a quarter of a century with the business.

Robert grew up in what was then one of the most poultry-dense parts of the country – Wythall, near Birmingham. Even as a five-year-old, he was keen to keep a few birds, and would wander to a nearby farm to watch chickens laying eggs.

That early fascination soon translated to gainful employment in the form of work on a local egg farm, before his father bought a small egg operation when Robert was a teenager.

Winning ways

  • Meticulous control of costs and marketing
  • Solid business built up through sensible, organic growth
  • Developing an added-value offering that doesn’t cost the earth

Soon after leaving school at 15, he began a sideline in goose production at Christmas.

It was this which evolved into the business that exists today, but some hard lessons were learned between then and now.

In the mid-1980s, egg farming went through a difficult period.

There was oversupply, imports and supermarkets began to pop up and squeeze farmgate prices – not to mention Edwina Currie sparking a health scare over salmonella.

The family egg farm struggled to generate enough cash to pay the bills. “That is imprinted in me. You never know when the rain is going to arrive.”

Robert has taken heed of the sector’s successes and failures over his long career and applied lessons appropriately. These include not overstretching, keeping a close eye on costs, and seeking a premium product over mass production.

“After seeing what went on with other farms, I’ve tried to take a leaf out of everybody’s book, and do that little bit better,” he says.

Sponsor’s view

“The finalists epitomise the collaboration and innovation that makes the poultry sector the success it is. Each has drawn on the expertise of peers, while ensuring they have key colleagues in place, to achieve top bird and business performance”

George Gould, Poultry technical consultant, Elanco