Most shoppers still see turkey as principally a Christmas treat. How has the industry progressed in selling it as a versatile all-year-round proposition? Rob Gray reports

Turkey: a story of unfulfilled potential.

Although it has bounced back from the health scares and Twizzler PR nightmares of the 2000s, consumption remains far behind other countries. In the past year, volume sales fell 0.3% to 53,915 tonnes, while the value hike of 4.7% to £274m was driven largely by retail price inflation [Kantar Worldpanel 52w/e 20 March 2011].

Many UK consumers continue to believe turkey is just for Christmas, with 57% of all sales in 2010 in the 12 weeks to Christmas [Kantar]. And through the rest of the year, producers are up against chicken a tough opponent given the turkey market is only a sixth of the size of chicken and has less than half the shopper numbers.

Part of the problem, says Catriona Lee, general sales manager at producer Cranberry Foods, is that retailers aren’t doing enough to make turkey stand out against other proteins and flag up its health benefits. She calls for greater use of PoS, as well as wider promotion of sample recipes, especially ones using mince, which is lower in satfat than beef mince.

“The biggest problem is people can’t find it in-store,” agrees Dan McGuigan, category management controller at Bernard Matthews Farms. He adds he also wants more retailers to use turkey in everyday sandwiches and as a key ingredient in ready meals.

Bernard Matthews itself is doing its bit to raise the appeal and profile of turkey with its new ready-to-cook range of fresh products, co-branded with Marco Pierre White. It is spending £10m on brand marketing this year, including £3m on a national TV push with Pierre White, and has the range listed in Tesco, Morrisons and Asda.

Its key objective over the next decade is to double the value of the ready-to-cook turkey category valued at £30m in the year to 31 October 2010 [Kantar] and initial responses to the new ad campaign seem promising: in a survey, 58% of people claimed the new ad made them think turkey was not just for Christmas; 32% said that, having seen the ad, they thought cooking turkey was easy; 44% felt it was good for you and tasted good; while the same percentage also said, unprompted, that turkey was moist.

But to bring about a step change in consumer perceptions, sampling will be key, believes industry body British Turkey. Its I Love British Turkey campaign’s Taste Challenge is now moving on from malls to county shows, starting with the Three Counties Show in Malvern in June. Visitors will be able to taste spaghetti bolognaise made with turkey mince and turkey cooked on the barbecue.

From high-profile celebrity tie-ups to extensive sampling, the industry is on the case. But there is still a long road ahead before turkey becomes part of the daily shop the way chicken has.

Read the full Meat & Fish Supplement 2011