Bronze birds increasingly in vogue for Christmas diners

Philip Armstrong with a plucked bronze turkey at his butchers, Coffey's, on the Lisburn Road in south Belfast
Philip Armstrong with a plucked bronze turkey at his butchers, Coffey's, on the Lisburn Road in south Belfast

Ulster shows no sign of falling out of love with traditional turkey dinners ... though interest appears to be turning to a different breed of bird.

Bronze turkeys appear to be on the rise as a favoured fowl for a festive dinner, according to some within the meat industry.

Philip Armstrong, owner of Coffey’s Butchers on the Lisburn Road in south Belfast, said that while they have seen an increase in boneless breast sales this year, traditional whole turkeys are “still the most popular” – and there is “definitely” no sign of the dish losing its place at the heart of the Christmas table.

However, over time the white birds seem to be losing ground to fancier bronze ones.

He described this breed as “a slower-grown bird, [with] a better flavour – and more expensive too, but most people don’t mind at Christmas.”

He said the “traditional turkey was always a bronze, black-feathered bird”, which was displaced by their speedier-growing counterparts.

Whilst Coffey’s (which has been trading since the 1920s) has seen a slight dip in demand for them so far this year, it is just a blip in the overall trend; bronze sales have increased 10 per cent each year for the previous five years.

Costing about £45 for a free range, 5kg (11lb) bird, as compared to £35 for similar-sized free range white one, he said they are unlikely to overtake the typical white variety any time soon, although in time they might “become 50-50”.

At the moment, he estimates that the shop sells about 70 per cent white birds, to about 30 per cent bronze.

Stephen Wilson of turkey-packing firm Drumgold Quality Foods, based in the Portadown area, has also seen a similar upsurge in demand for the bronze breed – which is reputed to have more of a “game flavour”.

He said that there had been a historic decline in demand for tradiational whole birds in general, although this picture has been better then expected during 2015, and “our anxieties haven’t really been realised”.

He expects to put in an increased order for such products in around February, when they will begin planning for Christmas 2016.

“Another thing we’re finding is there’s been a little bit more demand for speciality birds; more traditional, free range bronze turkeys,” he said, adding that geese sales have also grown.

Last year, Belfast butcher Mark Warwick, trading on the lower Newtownards Road, said that boneless breast fillets were becoming much more in vogue.

While other products may enjoy bursts of popularity, Mr Wilson told the News Letter that customers are unlikely to ever tire of “the visual appeal of that big roasted turkey on a platter”.