The poultry sector has seen volume sales decline for a number of years under pressure from bird flu and rapidly rising inflation. However, the poultry market has regained momentum in the recession, enjoying a strong image as easy to cook, versatile and better value for money than red meat.

The chicken segment especially has driven this market’s strong performance in recent years, while turkey stands far behind chicken, capturing just over the 10% of the market (12p per £1). Steps are underway to boost its popularity, much needed by the bird seen by many as a Christmas food and less tasty than chicken. The game category as a whole is well positioned to tap into a number of longer-term consumer trends in food and to benefit once spending rebounds with sales forecasted to reach £111 million in 2015.

The first cases of bird flu in 2006 caused a sudden decline of poultry sales. Sales continued to fall in 2008, when the economic recession and a rapidly rising food inflation darkened even more the general market, forcing many shoppers cutting their budgets.

However, long-term the poultry market has been one of the beneficiaries in the recession. Thanks to its strong value image, enhanced by lower price inflation than seen in much of the red meat market, it saw volume sales return to growth in 2009.The market is expected to continue to enjoy growth in value terms in 2010, driven by a combination of food inflation and trading up by consumers, as the economy and incomes regain momentum, higher welfare and added value products.

And it seems consumers appreciate poultry meat, as more than 9 in 10 adults have bought poultry to eat at home. Fresh chicken, either whole or in various cuts, is the top choice, bought by 86% of people, while turkey is bought by just 37% of people, as it is still seen (by a sizeable minority) as Christmas food, and as being less tasty than chicken. Interestingly, Mintel demographics show that women are more likely than men to have bought most types of poultry and that its appeal rises with age.

Cruelty and provenance also appear to be at the heart of the industry encouraging consumers to pay a bit more for those variants. Although standard own-label chicken remains the most popular choice across age and income groups, premium own-label and free-range chicken are the closest competitors. In terms of provenance, the British origin scores well and represent an important choice factor for nearly two in three adults.

As many as two in five consumers who buy poultry still only eat turkey at Christmas, while 36% think it doesn’t taste as good as chicken. This demonstrates how one of the major challenges of the poultry market is to engage consumers with the turkey segment, highlighting turkey’s versatility, affordability and its potential role at the table 12 months a year, catering to the practical needs of a nation on a budget.

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