The USDA licence allows KellyBronze turkeys to be sold throughout the US. Until now turkeys from the plant were only allowed to be sold in the state of Virginia.
Last year the plant had been given a provisional licence, subject to all the food safety checks and micro work being passed.
“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.
Appetite for high-end turkey
Partner in the business Judd Culver was credited with spending a huge amount of time and effort to achieve the full USDA status.
Kelly has been piloting the Thanksgiving market on the US east coast for the past four years and the facility at Crozet has become the only plant officially licensed in the US to dry-pluck and hang turkeys in the way that traditional turkeys are prepared in the UK.
In 2013, 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 £1.8 million initial investment.
Price is the big hurdle
In the US the cheap frozen turkey is a popular choice for Thanksgiving – but just as in the UK at Christmas, where there is a strong niche market for top-quality, fresh turkeys, Kelly believes there is similar potential for a premium product at Thanksgiving.
This year more than 2,000 KellyBronze turkeys will be sold in the US, 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 US$1 a pound,” said Kelly. “Ours are more like US$10 a pound.
“People there say to me ‘Get over it’,” he added. “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 UK 35 years ago. The only difference is that now we have a bit of money and know what to do.”