About 1.5 million fewer broiler chicks a week were placed in the UK in May, as the coronavirus outbreak tightened its grip on the domestic poultry sector.

These latest figures are right in step with recent Europe-wide figures from Copa-Cogeca, which estimated the downturn in the poultrymeat sector as a whole was 20 million day-olds a week (for all species) across the continent.

The most significant factor is the loss of the eating out-of-home market, which usually accounts for a substantial proportion of overall consumption and which is not being matched by increased retail demand.

In the UK, after initially showing a marginal decline in April in the first month of lockdown, placings of day-old broilers fell much more sharply in May, by 3% year-on-year, to an average 20.1m chicks/week.

This was around 1.5 m/week fewer than just three months earlier in February, as well as being one of the lowest monthly figures in the last two-to-three years (setting aside the usual seasonal fall each November).

Turkey placings also took a dive in May to reach a three-year low.

Turkey Market

Next month will be a crucial indicator for the industry as it marks the start of the summer placings for the seasonal Christmas market.

Producers will have to make decisions on expectations of demand for Christmas.

Retail sales are likely to be strong, but the gamble will be how much of the catering sector has returned by then.

First signs of the potential impact on actual production have also now emerged. In figures for May, overall chicken output slumped by nearly 3,000 tonnes, when compared with April.