Bird flu crisis puts pressure on independent retailers this Christmas

21 November 2022, 12:16 PM
  • With avian flu spreading around the UK, turkey flocks are at risk leaving fewer birds for Christmas dinners
Bird flu crisis puts pressure on independent retailers this Christmas

The British Poultry Council says the free-range sector has taken the biggest hit from bird flu, with about 35% of producers – which between them rear more than a million birds each year – directly affected.

Poultry is an “unsupported sector” according to Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union, who warns that, with bird flu coming on top of 30% cost price inflation, farmers are struggling.

The effect on indies
In fact, farms up and down the country are dealing with the crisis and many have had to cull part of their flocks. 

As Lord Newington, owner of Rhug Estate in North Wales, explained, “This was already a very busy time of year and of course, one we all look forward to, so it’s such a shame this crisis has spiralled in past weeks.

But for Marc Smith, managing director at Smith & Ellis, “Our supply has remained stable (we work with a few local farms to ensure that we have de-risked our supply capability. The farms we work with are excellent communicators, and we also pass on important information to our customers.

“Our supply farms are very competent in terms of infection control (secured barns, pest-proofed, increased surveillance etc.)

“The bigger impact has been on consumer buying habits - we are seeing more ‘bulk’ purchases from our regulars as they keep some items in their freezers in case the avian flu situation does have an impact on our supply.”

How to deal with possible shortages
With fewer turkeys this festive season, there will be pressure on independent retailers with shorter and more agile supply chains. 

According to Marc, with birds being culled, “We have noticed that the multiples have increased their festive poultry prices quite significantly this year, even though there are some minor increases (due to feed and energy increases), the price increase in supermarkets seems to be far in excess of this (a similar problem that we are seeing in egg production in the UK).”

To mitigate the shortages, it’s all about being prepared. “We have sold some of our festive items early this year (for customers to freeze and therefore guarantee that they have what they want), however, that has simply not been possible for larger turkeys and cockerels. 

“Our main message is to order early – this gives us chance to manage our allocation from each of our suppliers as we expect to pick up extra orders from customers who have not used us before as they encounter shortfalls in other outlets.”

The fact that rules have been relaxed around poultry farmers being allowed to slaughter their animals early and freeze them, so the birds can be defrosted and sold to consumers in the run-up to Christmas, has taken some of the pressure off retailers.

For Lord Newington, “Rhug Estate is taking a big gamble to ensure its customers have only the very best turkeys this Christmas,” he said. 

“It is nail-biting stuff and a race against time for many of us given how rapidly avian flu is spreading, but I believe a fresh turkey must be your first choice – better than one previously frozen – so we will continue as we are and encourage people to order all their meat requirements for the Christmas period in advance.

“But we still have hundreds of turkeys and geese available and are here to support suppliers and customers with whatever they need.”

Christmas content supported by Woolcool - the pioneers of sustainable temperature-controlled packaging.

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