DESPITE MUCH talk about consumers embracing vegetarian and vegan food, turkey will continue to take centre stage on the Christmas dinner table.

According to Paul Kelly, managing director of FarmGate Hatcheries, so long as the decision maker in charge of Christmas dinner is from the ‘older generation’, turkey’s centre stage place is secure.

“Vegetarian and vegan diets are increasing in the younger and student generation,” Mr Kelly told the hatchery’s poult customers. “Estimates show that anything from 3 to 10% of the population are non-meat eaters.

“I do not think this will affect the top end of the market as the decision maker on Christmas lunch tends to be the older generation. Turkey will continue to take centre stage – with a nut roast alongside!”

But one trend that cannot be disregarded is the move away from use of plastic in food packaging. “Plastic and non-recyclable packaging is a ‘big no’ and I believe will become a big issue very quickly,” added Mr Kelly.

Whole birds continue to dominate the firm’s own sales – remaining at 72% of farmgate sales over the past four years. Farmgate sales were up by 8.5% and online sales by 7.5%, with the move to ordering from smart phones and tablets up dramatically. Late orders – after December 14 – made up 12% of sales.

Mr Kelly said that across the country, farmgate sales had been generally strong with no significant surplus turkeys, as producers benefited from a good growing year with less than expected mortality and weights exceeding target. But sales to butchers were more erratic, with some doing well and growing volume, and others no so. Imported turkey butterflies were more expensive but, in relative terms, still very cheap.

The company has continued to expand its gene pool and now has, it believes, the world’s largest range of coloured turkey genetics. Farmgate Hatcheries is offering turkey producers a range of nine breeds starting with the Tiny, claimed to provide ‘unrivalled carcass quality’ with 22-week-old males making perfect 6 kg eviscerated turkeys and females finishing at 3 to 4 kg. At the other end of the scale is the Broad Breasted Bronze (BBB) bred to achieve large catering weights, with males finishing at 15 to 20 kg and females 10 to 12 kg.

Poults are available from mid May to mid September. Prices are up by 2.2% to recover higher costs in some areas, particularly wage inflation for seasonal workers at around 5% to keep in line with the national living wage.

Turkey fending off Christmas vegetarian challenge

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