Appetite for fresh game gives healthy price lift

Venison, pheasant and partridge are reappearing on dinner tables around the country after years in the wilderness, according to statistics from the Countryside Alliance.

Its Game to Eat campaign reports game sales growth in the double digits and surging prices paid by game dealers for shot birds and deer. A pheasant would now realise about 50p, up from 25-30p a few years ago.

That is at least in part due to chefs’ rekindling the nation’s appetite for game, said Jose Souto, chief lecturer in culinary arts at Westminster Kingsway College.

“A lot of game cooking used to be very traditional, but we now understand new, healthier ways of preparing it.

And because it’s not available all year round, it becomes a special thing and you get that excitement when it arrives.”

Rick Bestwick, who runs a £10m a year game processing business, said sales of ready meals and portion-controlled fresh meat to retailers and the foodservice sector were rising at 15-20% a year, allowing him to employ 240 people.

“Food is now very fashionable and people realise that game won’t kill them and is wild and natural.

A lot of the growth is due to new regulations administered by the Meat Hygiene Service, which mean that a shoot has to maintain a chilled larder for game, improving meat quality.”

It has not had a big impact on the economics of shooting, which is dominated by paying guns, but Charles Nodder of the National Gamekeepers Organisation said it was still good for the sport.

“There is now far greater certainty that everything shot will make its way into the food chain.

For far too long people haven’t looked at game seriously.

It has been seen as a by-product of a sport; now it’s seen as a quality food in its own right.”