Officials from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) gave Kelly Turkeys the go ahead after the business tested the Usc Thanksgiving market in Virginia during the last six years.
Kelly Turkeys has built a pilot processing plant on a small farm near the Blue Ridge Mountains to establish whether they can develop a niche market for a top quality traditional turkey in a market dominated by cheap frozen product.
Ironically the KellyBronze is produced just like the Americans used to – in the style of “New York dressed” turkeys. The turkeys are dry plucked and hung for 10 to 14 days before evisceration – just like they were in the Mid West before transport to the East Coast markets in the era before refrigeration.
“Getting the USDA 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,” said Paul Kelly, managing director of Kelly Turkeys. “The USDA has been brilliant and really supportive on getting our process approved. They’ve been a pleasure to work with.
“Selling our turkeys in the US 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.”
For the first three years Kelly Turkeys worked with a small organic farmer in Appomattox, Virginia, to grow 160 of its bronze turkeys to test the Thanksgiving market.
“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.”
This gave the Kelly family the confidence to buy a small farm of 120 acres and a homestead In May 2014 and then build a new processing facility – investing over $2 million in total. The permit for planning permission came through in just seven days from applying to build the plant.
“We just had to confirm that we would not build it within 40 feet of the river that runs through the farm. It’s a bit different to the UK!” he commented.
Carrie Culver is looking after the farm while her husband Judd has past experience in a Butterball turkey plant, and so he gives lots of help and advice.
“Predators have been an eye opener for me,” said Mr Kelly. “In the UK we have the fox and the occasional traveller to contend with. In the US we have coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, bears, possums, rattle snakes, rat snakes and numerous birds of prey.”
“Over the past 15 years since I’ve been looking at the US market. Everyone tells me that turkeys are sold at 1$ a pound 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.”