U.K.-based Kelly Turkeys has purchased a farm in Virginia to scale up production of KellyBronze turkeys for the Thanksgiving market in the United States. The company’s expansion into the U.S. was announced by company spokesman Paul Kelly at a 30th birthday celebration for the product at Danbury, Essex.

The 106-acre farm in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains has pasture and woodland for rearing the turkeys, and a small processing plant will be built on site to dry pluck, hang and prepare the turkeys in the way KellyBronze birds are produced in the UK.

The KellyBronze, the trendsetting traditional bronze turkey in the U.K., has been test marketed in Virginia over the past two years and the 1,000 in production for November have already been sold.

Kelly said the company’s challenge is to create a niche market in the U.S., where the market is dominated by frozen turkeys.

 “I know all the industry big players out there, and they think we’re mad,” he told more than 70 guests at a woodland venue surrounded by eight-week-old turkeys. “They say ‘Turkeys are a dollar a pound.  Get over it. You’re trying to sell a turkey at ten dollars a pound. It’s not going to happen no matter how good it tastes.’ 

“I don’t really get that because the sales of fine wine and champagne go through the roof at Thanksgiving in the U.S. and they sell 60 million turkeys there.  So we just want a tiny bit of it for those people that want something very special and genuinely better for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s going to be really exciting.”

Kelly Turkeys looks to future in UK

Looking to the future in the UK, Kelly said that wild woodland production would be replacing much of the normal free range, with increasing emphasis on eating quality.

“We probably eat more turkey than anyone else in the world, I would imagine, day in and day out.  With our breeding program it’s all about eating quality,” he said.  “You’ve got to find families that produce great eating quality and that’s … a challenge.  A few years ago, we got rid of two pure lines that were continually tough, and didn’t eat very well and that’s sacrilege to a turkey breeder. You just don’t get rid of pure lines”

He also spoke about the increasing importance of internet sales and their franchising KellyBronze Farmers scheme, alongside expanding local farmgate trade which accounts for 1,900 turkeys at Christmas.

“We ‘re thinking of doing more days like this, bringing people down to the woodland,” he told the food trade guests, suppliers, customers, local farmers and friends among the gathering seated on straw bales. “Free range is a bit passé now, and it’s not until you get people to come down here to take a walk on the wild side and experience this for themselves that they see exactly what I expect.”