As traditional turkey hatcheries set their prices and start to plan for the year ahead, their producer customers still face a “perfect storm” of potential problems in Christmas 2023, say suppliers of traditional poults.

According to Paul Kelly of Farmgate Hatcheries, the coming Christmas is likely to be beset by the same problems as in the one just gone, which led to a fall of 10% in sales.

See also: British turkey numbers down this Christmas

This decline took them back to 2019 or pre-Covid levels, which Mr Kelly puts down to “more families eating out, pressure on incomes and the influence of avian influenza”.

Bird flu remains a potential risk, and feed and energy prices are uncertain.

Coupled with that, consumers still face cost of living challenges, and as a consequence, he predicted similar levels of demand were expected for this year as well.

Labour

Nor was there any ‘silver bullet’ for the tight labour situation without the government allowing free movement again for EU nationals – “a very long shot, to say the least”, said Mr Kelly.

Andrew Cleare of traditional poult supplier Hockenhull Turkeys agreed that sales had dropped around 10% last season.

And although it was challenging to say what will happen in 2023 at this stage, he suggested there could be “a bit of a shortage” this year because of a drop in the number of growers.

Cost of production

“Without a doubt, some people have stopped doing it, and there are two factors there,” said Mr Cleare.

Producer’s production costs are significantly higher, and avian influenza presents a significant risk.

Secondly, traditional producers were getting older: “There’s a lack of people coming through behind them.”

He added: “The interesting thing is that the market can be filled very quickly by one or two of the bigger producers straight out of their weekly programme.”

Freeze and thaw

He believed a key factor would be whether last year’s derogation on killing birds early for Christmas would be introduced again this year.

This measure enabled large producers to freeze the birds in advance and then defrost and sell them as fresh between 28 Nov and 31 Dec.

Farmgate Hatcheries has raised its prices by 17% for this season.

Explaining the second annual increase in a row, MD Paul Kelly said: “The increase of 7% in last year’s poult prices did not take into account the massive rise in feed, energy and labour costs after the start of the Ukraine war.

“While wheat prices have been reducing, feed is still a lot more expensive than a year ago, pre-Ukraine invasion, and energy and labour costs have rocketed.”