British turkey sales were much higher than expected over Christmas.
There had been fears that last year's outbreak of avian flu would damage the crucial festive period, but many retailers have reported sales figures above those of 2006, with turkey crowns selling particularly well and consumers also experimenting with other meats.
"Early evidence is showing British turkey had a fantastic Christmas, with year-on-year sales up and major retailers giving unprecedented support for British fresh and frozen birds," said British Turkey Federation chairman and Cranberry Foods' joint MD Andy Lewins. "Provenance was important for consumers this year and they gave the industry a clear message that a whole British turkey remains the star of the Christmas dinner table."
A combination of retailer support for home-produced meat and a high-profile marketing campaign urging consumers to buy British turkeys is being credited with helping convince the public to back UK product.
The campaign included a survey asking if 'you are a leg or a breast man', the launch of a text service to give consumers information on portion sizes and cooking times, a website and a 'turkey hotline'.
Asda reported sales of over one million turkeys, with frozen birds selling out completely. Another strong seller was the Blue Slate variety, which is one of the oldest rare breed turkeys and dates back to Victorian times. Three-bird roasts and venison on racks also sold well, it said.
Waitrose said sales of turkey joints were up 35% on last year, with demand for a three-bird game roast featuring mallard, pheasant and partridge also exceeding expectations.
Sales at Bernard Matthews, the source of the avian flu outbreak, were boosted by a national TV campaign in the run up to Christmas. "Despite the outbreak, demand for British turkey at Christmas was as strong as ever," said marketing director Matt Pullen. "Year-on-year our sales have increased and our crowns and whole birds were in firm demand."