Xmas Planning: The months before Christmas

Christmas comes but once a year, but card shops make sure it lasts three months, as someone once said. And it is not long now until that that ominous comment will soon become a reality. While on the subject of great quotes, Benjamin Franklin is recorded as having said: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. And the utterance still rings true, whether it refers to the exams you sat as a kid or running a business as an adult in the most busiest retailing period of the year.

If you are talking Christmas, then you might as well be talking turkey. The latest statistics from the British Turkey Federation show that, in 2009, 10m turkeys were consumed for Christmas. FarmGate Hatcheries, a subsidiary of East Anglia brand KellyBronze, reports that renewed confidence in the traditional Christmas turkey market has led to increased poult sales, up 5.2% this year. This is attributed to greater faith in the market after the expected reduction in demand in 2009 failed to materialise. “More and more farmers are starting to realise there is a steadily growing demand for the very best turkey at Christmas — as long as it genuinely is better,” says FarmGate Hatcheries MD Paul Kelly. “There will always be cheaper turkeys on the market, but trying to compete with these on price is not a viable option for the smaller producer, who is rearing birds to maturity and then dry-plucking and hanging to enhance the quality.”

 

Keeping it local

 

In recent years, suppliers have definitely seen a change in demands for turkey from butchers and farm shop clients. Jodie Cavaye, sales and marketing manager for Copas Traditional Turkeys, says that the desire for local produce is currently one of the strongest consumer foodie trends out there. Throughout the year, she says, consumers are increasingly looking for quality foods, produced in the UK by small producers. “This is no different, come Christmas,” she adds. “But while consumers tend to look for Christmas turkeys that are reared on local farms, what they really need to be looking out for are the factors that contribute to superior eating quality, such as the age and diet of the birds, and traditional production techniques.”

All Copas’ turkeys are reared in the company’s fields of cherry orchards in Berkshire, where they enjoy spacious barns and grass meadows. The meat is only available at Christmas and the birds are raised to full adult maturity before they are dry-plucked and game-hung for 14 days, ensuring a dense and flavoursome meat. “While most people like to purchase a whole turkey for their Christmas meal, we have found that many prefer smaller cuts, such as crowns, turkey breast roasts and boneless joints, so we are now catering for that market,” says Cavaye.

As in every year, Copas’ focus has been on rearing exceptional quality turkeys that are the talk of the Christmas meal and beyond, says Cavaye. “We will be continuing to supply our full product range of whole turkeys – traditional white, free-range bronze, free-range organic, as well as turkey crowns and turkey breast roasts,” she says. “We will also be supplying our range of ‘Very Very Special’ accompaniments.”

The Traditional Farmfresh Turkey Association (TFTA), a group of 50 independent farmers from around the UK, produce in excess of 165,000 free-range and barn-reared turkeys for the Christmas market. From July to November, the turkeys will be raised on local feed by farmers and grown to full maturity to high welfare standards before making the transition from local farms to local butchers and farm shops in December. Robert Garner, chairman of the TFTA, agrees there has been a noticeable change in butchers’ demand in recent years. “Yes, most definitely. I would say that all the TFTA producers can offer their butcher and farm shop clients state-of-the-art packaging, which really emphasises the quality of the product. We also support them with recipe leaflets, posters and associated promotional material. Most TFTA producers also help their clients with promotional days and weekends, such as meet-the-producer events.”

 

Renamed brand

This year, the TFTA producers have rebranded their former Golden Promise turkey brand into Totally Traditional Turkeys. The turkeys are dry-plucked and game-hung. “This way consumers will know our product immediately by the name,” adds Garner. In conjunction with the relaunch, chef Rachel Green has released a selection of recipes ideas for turkey (see pages 23-4), including a Turkey, Smoked Bacon and Sweetcorn Chowder, Crunchy Peanut Butter Turkey and Coconut Curry with Coriander. Butchers and farm shops can put these ideas forward to their customers as something different they can do with their turkey or with the leftovers, instead of serving it cold or making a sandwich. “The Association works hard to guarantee the exceptional taste and texture from our turkeys; this is as a result of our traditional methods of production,” says Garner. “The recipe leaflet we produced last year with Rachel was a huge success and we hope to emulate that again this year.”

Displaying turkey well is crucial for maximising sales and suppliers such as Copas and trade bodies such as the TFTA offer many tips on how to do this successfully. “Because consumers tend to go back to their local family butcher at Christmas, it’s really important that independent retailers do all they can during this period to differentiate themselves from the multiples, to gain a larger share of their year-round custom,” says Cavaye. “We shy away from solely using buzz words like ‘free-range’ or ‘bronze’, which every supermarket will be selling this year. The birds available in the multiples bear no resemblance to a traditional turkey, such as a Copas Turkey, that is reared to full maturity, game-hung and plucked by hand.”

To support its customers, Copas has produced a bespoke marketing kit, provided free-of-charge to all stockists, comprising leaflets, posters, window stickers and boxes for point-of-sale. Copas will also be hosting an open day for customers at its farm in Berkshire this month, giving retailers and their staff a first-hand opportunity to learn about the company’s husbandry and traditional rearing methods.

So get ready, be prepared and remember that old saying from Benjamin Franklin, as the busy season has only just begun.

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