christmas dinner turkey

Assosia data shows there are also significantly fewer fresh turkey SKUs available this year, after half the festive flock was lost to avian flu

Shoppers are facing far less choice when it comes to fresh turkey options this Christmas, while prices have risen by up to 45% amid soaring costs and the UK’s worst-ever bird flu outbreak.

Analysis of Assosia data by The Grocer shows the number of fresh whole turkey and turkey crown SKUs in the traditional big four, Aldi, Lidl, Waitrose, M&S, Ocado and Iceland has fallen by 32.3% year on year.

Only 44 fresh lines were on sale on 12 December, compared with 65 on 13 December 2021. And of the 27 lines that were available on both dates, all had seen a price hike. The average price increase across all 27 SKUs was 24.4%.

The biggest mover was a 45.3% increase for a Morrisons British large whole turkey to £31.44, followed by a 41.6% jump in the price of a Morrisons medium turkey to £23.45.

The price of a 5kg M&S Collection organic free-range bronze turkey with giblets, available on Ocado, saw the third-biggest rise, by 35.7% to £95. A further 15 fresh turkey SKUs, sold by Ocado, Tesco, Waitrose, M&S and Aldi, saw increases of between 20% and 33.3%.

The smallest increase was on a Waitrose medium Duchy Organic bronze feathered whole turkey with giblets, up 7.1% to £75. 

And the most expensive turkey, an M&S Collection 6.7kg British free-range bronze, cost £107.20, up 23.1% from £87.10 last year. The most expensive turkey per kilo was the Duchy Organic free range crown at £30.55/kg. 

Frozen turkeys – as first reported by The Grocer at the start of November – have also seen big price hikes.

The Assosia data showed there were 34 price hikes in the selected retailers above 15% between the two dates. The biggest move was a 30.8% increase in the price of a Braemoor 2.3kg medium British turkey crown sold in Lidl, which rose from £12.99 to £16.99, which works out at £7.39/kg. Lidl also sold the cheapest turkey meat: its 5.5kg medium ready-basted turkey comes in at £2.96/kg.

The average price increase for the 49 frozen lines available both this year and last year was 18.1%.

The most expensive frozen turkey by weight was a 1.1kg M&S British stuffed Oakham turkey breast joint at £20.37/kg.

Future of UK free-range turkey production at risk, MPs hear

As well as soaring feed and fuel costs, turkey supply has been hit by the worst avian flu epidemic on record. At least 600,000 festive birds – representing about half the free-range turkeys and geese earmarked for this year’s Christmas season – had been lost to this season’s bird flu outbreak, according to British Poultry Council CEO Richard Griffiths, who updated MPs on the disease’s impact at a Commons Efra Committee meeting a fortnight ago.

The outbreak meant that fresh turkeys had to be frozen weeks before reaching their full size, so while a Defra derogation meant the birds could be sold as ‘fresh’ (provided adequate labelling was in place), it still meant farmers had not been able to maximise the value of each bird. 

About 36% of poultry farms were now under some sort of avian flu restrictions, Griffiths added. He warned free-range poultry production in the UK faced an uncertain future without a viable vaccine, as many farmers  had decided production in the current animal health environment was currently “not worth the risk”.

His comments were echoed by 2 Sisters Food Group CEO Ronald Kers,who last week told The Grocer the poultry giant had lost “millions” as a result of the outbreak. Sister business Bernard Matthews had lost more than £10m, with hundreds of thousands of turkeys in its supply chain either killed by bird flu or culled.

It comes as the Efra Committee this week wrote to environment secretary Thérèse Coffey urging her to change “fundamentally unfair” compensation rules for poultry producers impacted by bird flu.

Under current rules, compensation is only paid for the loss of healthy birds that are culled by government vets from an under-resourced Animal & Plant Health Agency.

But because the current strain of bird flu killed birds so quickly, a large number of them died between the disease being noted by farmers and the arrival of the vets for culling, the Committee pointed out. This meant that the longer farmers had to wait for their cull, the less compensation they received.

“This can have a particular impact on smaller producers who keep birds in a single location and can lose their entire flock during an outbreak,” the letter read.

The Committee is calling for a revision to the scheme so compensation “is paid based on the number of birds alive in the affected flock at the point of disease notification rather than the number of birds that are culled”.

Coffey was also urged to set out how Defra would support bird restocking efforts, given how farmers currently had to wait 12 months after an outbreak before restocking.

“As a minimum, if the department is not willing to broaden the compensation scheme in the way we have suggested, we believe that it should provide financial support for deep cleaning of sheds to enable growers to restock as soon as possible,” it added. It also urged action on vaccine development and deployment.

‘Worst to come’ from food sector’s myriad crises, says 2 Sisters boss Ronald Kers