The drive to market U.K. premium traditional turkey in the United States for the Thanksgiving holiday has taken a major step forward with the granting of a full USDA license for the KellyBronze processing plant in Crozet, Virginia.

The USDA license allows KellyBronze turkeys to be sold throughout the United States. Until now, turkeys from the Crozet plant have only been allowed to be sold in the state of Virginia.

In 2016, the plant was given a provisional license subject to all the food safety checks and micro work being favorable.  The dry processing surpassed all expectations and the USDA granted full approval.

“The USDA has been very helpful and has had to make many waivers to allow the dry plucking and hanging process to get USDA approval,” said Paul Kelly, managing director of Kelly Turkeys. His friend and partner in the business, Judd Culver, spent a huge amount of time and effort to achieve this status.

Kelly has been piloting the Thanksgiving market on the U.S. east coast for the past four years and the facility at Crozet has become the only plant officially licensed in the U.S. to dry pluck and hang turkeys in way that traditional turkeys are prepared in the U.K. 

Turkeys handled in this way were once known as ‘New York dressed’ birds, named after the way they were prepared ahead of the long journey from farms in the Midwest.  The practice spread to the U.K. where dry plucking and hanging for 10 to 14 days is routinely used to enhance the flavor and appeal of the traditional Christmas turkey.

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In the U.S., frozen turkeys are a popular choice for Thanksgiving – but just as in the U.K. at Christmas where there is a strong niche market for top quality, fresh turkeys Kelly believes there is similarly the potential for a premium product for the most important meal of the year across the U.S. 

Kelly Turkeys’ history and future in the United States

Four years ago the Kelly family, from Danbury in Essex, bought a small farm in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains and set up production and processing facilities with a GBP1.8 million initial investment.

Kelly called on leading butchers in New York and Washington and received an enthusiastic response. This year more than 2,000 KellyBronze turkeys will be sold with plans to expand up to 3,000 in 2018.

“I’m very excited at the interest in our KellyBronze turkeys, but I don’t underestimate the challenge of selling into a market where frozen turkeys for Thanksgiving typically sell for a dollar a pound.  Ours are more like ten dollars a pound,” said Kelly. 

“People there say to me ‘Get over it. No matter how good yours are, they’re not going to sell here.’ We have already proved that wrong, albeit in a small way so far.  But I do believe that when sales of fine wine and champagne go through the roof at Thanksgiving and when 60 million turkeys are sold, there is a real niche for our KellyBronze. We’re targeting those discerning consumers who want something very special, and genuinely better, for their Thanksgiving dinner.

“This is a big challenge that will have its highs and lows, but it will also be great fun. We are starting from scratch - as we did with the bronze turkey in the U.K. 35 years ago. The only difference is that now we have a bit of money and know what to do!”