Christmas 2008 proved a good season for Norfolk turkey importer

The Christmas 2008 turkey market was a “text book” example of what should happen in December, says Kevin Shewell, trading director of turkey meat importers Autumn Foods.

Those that booked early did well while those who left it late in the hope of better prices paid the price of misreading the market. The early birds knew what they wanted and placed meaningful orders rather than a token couple of pallets to leave their options open as in previous years, said Shewell.

His own company seems to have got it right, with sales equal to 8m portions of fresh breast products plus enough frozen products to take the seasonal total “well over 10m and a significant increase on 2007”.

It will be seen as another milestone on the meteoric progress of Autumn Foods, which was set up in 1998 near Norwich by three veterans of the food trade. Kevin Shewell came from a ready-meals background and Paul Mullen and Steve Todd from Bernard Matthews.

They kicked off with a zero turnover, which over the decade grew to more than £20m in 2007. In the meantime, the UK industry has struggled to keep its head above water. Mr Shewell’s secret, he maintained, was be to flexible and respond to demand.

“We are operating in a business that is continually changing – changes in demand, changes in market conditions. Stay light on your feet to be in a position to take advantage of the opportunities that the market offers.

“Product is sourced in the main from Hungary, Poland and Italy and a lot of our overseas sales are sourced from the UK.”

Mr Todd acknowledged that the weaker pound had helped export trade, enabling the company to contain some of the currency related cost increases on imports. “The worst effect of the exchange rate cost increases have been softened by the producers and we are working hard on further cost efficiencies and by falling logistic costs.”