The brand had been testing the US Thanksgiving market in Virginia for six years and has invested $2 million in a processing plant on a 120-acre farm near the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The USDA has approved the process used for preparing the Kelly Bronze turkeys so it can be sold across the US. The turkeys are dry-plucked and hung for 10 to 14 days before evisceration.
Paul Kelly, managing director of Kelly Turkeys, said: “Getting the US Department of Agriculture to approve our dry process has taken huge amounts of time and effort, with meetings in Washington and translating our UK legislation for dry processing so it would meet USDA criteria. I have to say the USDA has been brilliant and really supportive on getting our unique process approved. They’ve been a pleasure to work with.”
Before now, the Kelly family had grown 160 of its bronze turkeys for sale in selected US retail outlets. “The few butchers we supplied were very pleased and the KellyBronze has made up around one-third of their sales in three years at a price over twice that of the premium bird they were selling.”
Kelly said he recognised the challenge the business is facing.
“Selling our turkeys in the USA is rather like selling coals to Newcastle since the ‘New York dressed’ process is one that the UK imported early in the last century and has become standard for our traditional Christmas market here. Across in the US this process has become almost unknown.”
He is also unconcerned about a value drop that has taken place in the US turkey market of late.
“Over the past 15 years since I’ve been looking at the US market, everyone tells me that turkeys are sold at $1/lb and that no way would people pay the premium needed to grow the birds to full maturity and then dry-pluck and hang them.
“I find it strange that in a country where the sales of fine wines and champagne go through the roof at Thanksgiving, it’s inconceivable there are not enough discerning customers who can afford to have the very best for us not to take a small part of the market. I believe 45 million turkeys are sold at Thanksgiving – our challenge is to get discerning customers among them to try our turkey.
“I am aware the US has been a graveyard for many UK food companies, but we have done the groundwork. I think we’ve made a very calculated decision and am optimistic about developing a very worthwhile niche market there.”