Turkeys delight as bird still top for butchers

Neil Fletcher, proprietor of Fletcher Meats in Dundonald
Neil Fletcher, proprietor of Fletcher Meats in Dundonald

Yuletide dining tastes may be changing, say some.

But turkeys remain “by a long shot” the number one staple of Ulster’s dining tables at Christmas.

Neil Fletcher of family firm Fletcher Meats in Dundonald, east Belfast, said that gradually new habits have crept in, and the Province’s palate has undergone some subtle shifts.

“[Turkey sales] are fairly stable from last year now, but there is a general decline,” said the 41-year-old from east Belfast.

“You wouldn’t see it from year to year, but you would see it over 10 years. People would take rib-on-the-bone. Goose came into fashion there, but it’s away again. That was about four or five years ago, but it was big money for very, very little.”

The firm was formerly his father’s and has been going for around half-a-century.

They still sell about 450 to 500 turkeys every Christmas, and asked if turkeys were still holding their place as the most popular yuletide dish, he said: “Oh aye – by a long shot.”

However, he added that what has become even more popular than the whole bird itself are turkey crowns – a product which they almost never sold a decade ago.

The British Poultry Council said on Friday the number of birds sold each Christmas in the UK stands at about 10m, and this has generally remained fairly steady for a decade – although its spokeswoman did not have access to how sales had fluctuated across the regions.

Mark Warwick, 24-year-old manager of Warwick’s Butchers on the lower Newtownards Road, also in east Belfast (and trading since 1987), said that turkey meat sales had taken something of a dip in the past, but declared: “Overall, turkey is back with a bang.”

Painting a similar picture to Mr Fletcher, he also said that the style of the meat is changing, and consumers are opting increasingly for boneless fillets.

From selling a couple of hundred kilos of boneless breast meat a few years ago, he estimates the figure may today be half-a-tonne.

Meanwhile, sales of whole birds declined from 300 to 400 at Christmas to perhaps 250.

“Throughout the years we’ve been trading, there’s always been a strong number of people who would go for alternatives – beef, or lamb.

“But turkey was always a strong favourite and this year, more than ever, more and more people have reverted back to turkey – but rather than go for traditional turkey, they’ve gone for boneless breast”.

He said perhaps only about 3.5kg (7.7lb) out of a 6kg (13.2lb) bird may be useable, adding: “The reason they went away from turkey in the past is maybe just the amount of waste in traditional turkey.”

Whatever the style, it remains “most definitely” at the top of the pile when it comes to Christmas fare.