Britons urged not to spurn large Christmas turkeys amid Covid slump

Rebecca Smithers Consumer affairs correspondent
·6-min read
<span>Photograph: REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

Consumers are being urged to buy large turkeys – which are suffering a slump in demand due to smaller festive gatherings – in order to avoid a glut of Christmas birds going to waste.

Research from the Too Good to Go national food waste app reveals 30% of Britons are planning to buy a smaller turkey than normal, with two-thirds opting for compact and easy-to-carve turkey crowns for their Christmas table. Only 17% of shoppers are planning to buy larger birds, the research found, raising fears that many fresh birds could remain unsold.

In a drive to get consumers to sharpen up their butchery skills, the app has teamed up with award-winning butchers Farmison & Co to produce a 15-minute turkey tutorial. This shows consumers how to cut up a large, raw, whole bird for smaller gatherings on Christmas Day, leaving plenty to freeze and cook in the new year but with no waste.

This year, just over half of UK households (54%), or an estimated 27.8m, said they were planning to eat turkey on Christmas Day, the research found. About 9 million British turkeys are reared each year for Christmas, and Britons traditionally plump for a 6kg to 7kg bird, which can feed as many as 10 people and still leave plenty over for a Boxing Day buffet and traditional turkey sandwiches.

Jamie Crummie, the co-founder of Too Good To Go, said turkey was not just for Christmas. “With smaller gatherings expected this Christmas, it’s perhaps unsurprising that turkey crowns are the most popular size. But there is no reason why larger turkeys should be wasted this festive season. Learning how to butcher and portion up a larger bird at home can still give you the smaller crown portion for roasting on Christmas Day, while leaving plenty of meat – legs and wings etc – to freeze and enjoy later in 2021.”

From 2 December, England will be divided into three different tiers of restrictions. They are slightly amended from the previous system.

Across all tiers, shops, personal care, gyms and the wider leisure sector are set to reopen. Collective worship and weddings – with a maximum of 15 in attendance – can also resume.

Tier one

Under the new system hospitality businesses in England can stay open until 11pm with table service only but last orders must be made by 10pm, in an effort to stagger departures. The “rule of six” will also remain in place indoors, meaning social household mixing is still allowed.

Spectator sport is set to resume, albeit with limits on numbers and abiding by social distancing. In tier 1, there will be a maximum crowd capacity outdoors of 50% of occupancy of the stadium or 4,000 people, whichever is smaller. Indoors, the maximum capacity is 1,000.

In tier 1, people will be encouraged to minimise travel and work from home where possible. Support bubbles – which allowed a single household to join with another household – are also being broadened across all tiers. Parents with a child under one will be able to form a support bubble, as well as those with a child under five who needs continuous care, such as a child with a disability. Also, in cases where there is a single adult carer, for a partner with dementia for example, they would also be able to form a support bubble.

How was it before?

In the least restrictive tier, also known as alert level “medium”, the rule of six applied indoors and outdoors, meaning up to half a dozen people from different households could gather. Hospitality businesses, such as pubs and restaurants, could stay open but were forced to shut by 10pm – a move that prompted much criticism, including from Conservative backbenchers.

Tier two

Under the new system, although hospitality venues will be allowed to stay open until 11pm – with last orders at 10pm – only those that serve substantial meals can operate. It means pubs and bars that do not will have to close.

As before, social mixing outside of households or support bubbles will not be allowed indoors. The rule of six will apply outdoors.

Spectators will be allowed to watch sport in tier 2, with a maximum crowd capacity outdoors of 50% of the capacity of the stadium or 2,000 people, whichever is smaller. Indoors, the maximum capacity is 1,000.

Indoor entertainment venues, such as cinemas, casinos and bowling alleys, must also close.

How was it before?

In the “high” alert level tier people were prohibited from mixing socially indoors with anybody outside of their household or support bubble but the rule of six remained in place outdoors. Hospitality businesses, such as pubs and restaurants, could open until 10pm but people were only allowed to visit with their household or support bubble.

Tier three

Hospitality venues will have to close, except for delivery and takeaway service. In tier 3, hotels and other accommodation providers must also close, except for specific work purposes where people cannot return home. Outdoor sports, including golf and tennis, will be allowed to continue in all tiers, as will amateur team sports such as football. Unlike the first two tiers, spectators will not be allowed to watch sport in tier 3.

How was it before?

In the most restrictive tier, known as the “very high” alert level that was endured by vast swathes of the north of England, mixing socially indoors between households – unless a support bubble was in place – was banned. Under baseline measures hospitality venues serving substantial food could remain open until 10pm. Up to six people from different households could socialise outdoors in public spaces, such as parks, beaches or public gardens.

With varying lockdown restrictions forcing smaller festive gatherings, farmers have been finding it difficult to predict consumer demand, warning that larger birds would be out of favour.

Paul Kelly, the managing director of Chelmsford-based Kelly Turkeys, a family business supplying premium whole birds, said he had sold out of smaller turkeys by the end of October, adding: “What’s changed is that demand is massively higher than normal due to everyone having Christmas at home.”

Nick Coleman, Waitrose’s turkey buyer, said: “The uncertain nature of this year has certainly influenced the way our customers are planning to shop this Christmas. We have seen the trend for smaller turkey joints growing in popularity for several years, but this has increased much more this year with our smaller birds and crowns up over 200%.”

Frozen food specialist Iceland brought forward the launch of its frozen Christmas turkeys in store to October, while Waitrose reported sales of frozen turkeys up 316% the week before last as shoppers started filling their freezers for the big day.