Christmas 2007 proves tough for traditional turkey producers

Traditional farm fresh turkey producers reported mixed fortunes in the battle to sell Christmas turkeys, at the Anglian Turkey Association’s recent annual post mortem meeting held at Feering in Essex.

Speaking to delegates, Len Goodman, who runs the Anglian Turkey Exchange said: “Not a good year for selling turkeys after the success we had last year.”

Butchers’ orders were down 10% on average, most certainly due, he suggested, to negative publicity on prices.

There were 20,600 birds on the books from 84 producers against 27,000 in 2006. Most of the 2007 crop found homes unlike 5500 in 2006.

Too many birds

Also finding conditions tough was Jeremy Blackmore at Low Farm, Huntingfield, Suffolk, which is only 20 miles from the site of  November’s H5N1 avian flu outbreak. Initially, the 2007 Christmas market got off to a bright start. But by the second week it was clear that there were too many birds about.

In a normal year there is a steady stream of butchers ringing in with late orders and fellow producers anxious to fill a few gaps. Also, farmgate sales were down 26%. Later the local butcher told him that his turkey trade was also down 26%.

It seemed reasonable to conclude that avian flu caused the fall in sales, said Mr Blackmore who was grateful for a deal with a Smithfield market outlet to take a significant number of his birds each year.

Hard work

But it wasn’t all bad news, John Howe of Tenterden Turkeys rated 2007 as one of the best of his 11 years in turkeys. “Conditions were not ideal but with hard work we got there and turned the 2007 market into a winner.”

He put the market on a par with 2006. No one mentioned avian flu and price wasn’t an issue.

Bernard Matthews reported a continuing trend towards crowns and joints, but its star performer in 2007 was the frozen Golden Norfolk bird supported by a national TV campaign. It claims that as in 2006, more than 2.3m households in Britain sat down to a Bernard Matthews turkey.