Fears the November avian flu outbreak would have an adverse impact on the Christmas turkey trade are beginning to recede.

There had been widespread concern that the cull of thousands of birds in Suffolk would cause major shortages over the festive period. Availability concerns centred on fresh rather than frozen birds, which were stored before the outbreak.

But turkey producers and retailers have reported resilient and in some case increased sales of fresh birds as people bought earlier than usual to ensure they had the Christmas lunch staple.

"Demand is very high and if anything we are seeing more people getting their turkeys in early," said Andy Lewins, MD at Cranberry Foods.

Bernard Matthews, the largest supplier of turkeys, said it was monitoring the impact of the latest outbreak closely, but did not foresee a problem.

"It will not affect our supply of turkeys for Christmas since most of our stock is already in place," said a spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, free-range turkey producers predicted another bumper year. "We are turning orders away," said John Martin, MD of specialist free range turkey company Lincs Turkeys.

Despite some forward buying, there shouldn't be any availability issues later in the month, added British Poultry Council executive officer Jeremy Blackburn.

"In the main everyone understands there is going to be no problem sourcing the 10 million turkeys eaten by the UK general public this Christmas."

Industry experts said the British public had become immune to food scare stories in a year that had seen outbreaks of foot and mouth, bluetongue and bird flu.

Although the price of a bird has risen as much as 20% this Christmas, with some top-end organic turkeys selling for £100, the increase had nothing to do with bird flu, said experts.

It was down to the knock-on effect of the significant increase in feed costs, which have soared by 200% in the past two years, they said.