About 10 million turkeys are sold in the UK for Christmas every year, estimates the British Turkey promotional body, with three quarters of households sitting down to eat the roast bird.
About one-third of British Christmas turkeys are sold by individual retailers and the remainder by supermarkets.
More people are opting for a turkey crown than whole birds, with £73.4 million spent on crowns in 2018, 3.9 per cent more than 2017, according to figures from research company Kantar. Sales of whole birds were down 7 per cent to £52.9m.
In the year to December 1, 2019, crown sales have been at £80.3m, with whole birds at £55.8m. Total annual turkey production is 15m birds, just 1.3 per cent of total poultry production, according to Defra.
This year, fresh supermarket turkeys have come under media scrutiny because of the practice of slaughtering birds in November then keeping them in atmospherecontrolled conditions at temperatures of -2degC.
EU law states frozen birds must be stored at below -12degC. Nigel Broadhurst, chairman of the British Frozen Food Federation and joint managing director of Iceland, said: “I think it is a con.”
He added fresh birds can sell for 70 per cent more than frozen.
“They are not fresh turkeys,” he said. “They were killed on November 18 or 26.”
The practice was defended by the British Poultry Council and Food and Drink Federation which said it allowed retailers to stock affordable fresh turkeys which meet all relevant regulations.
These may be price-conscious times, but Herefordshire poultry producer Jade Stock had no problem finding customers willing to pay a premium for her free-range Out and About Poultry turkeys and geese.
This year one of her Kelly Bronze 7kg birds will cost £89, but customers valued the farm’s high welfare and that the turkeys are killed on site, dry plucked and hung for 10 days to enhance their flavour.
“We find people are still happy to spend the money,” said Ms Stock.
“About 80 per cent of orders come from repeat customers.
“Some orders still come by post, but social media has taken everything to a new level. Interestingly we are rarely asked about price.”