Poultry can fly high after all.

At least in terms of UK food inflation, in which it is, by a distance, proving the most rapidly appreciating of the main meat market segments.

The retail price of fresh poultry was, in the half year to late October, 14.6% higher than a year before, far outpacing the inflation rates of beef, fish, lamb and pork, Kantar data shows.

‘Squeezed producer margins’

And why not, when poultry looks a top choice for food budgets shrunk by the cost-of-living crisis.

At £4.48 per kilogramme, it remains the cheapest of the major meats – if less so than in the past, with its discount to fresh pork shrinking to 14.5% from 19.4% a year before.

But that does not mean poultry producers are thriving. Retail sales volumes of chicken are falling, down by 4.2% year on year, if dipping less steeply than those of other meats, according to Kantar.

Supermarket rationing of egg sales per customer is another sign of a struggling sector, with supplies sapped by producer cutbacks in the face of margins tightened by high feed and energy costs.

Indeed, UK demand for poultry feed demand will decline in 2022-23 “driven by squeezed producer margins”, the AHDB bureau said on Tuesday, noting too the tests posed by an outbreak of bird flu.

New kids on the blocks

Are other UK meat producers faring better?

The AHDB reported that margins for beef farmers are “again being squeezed by higher input costs”.

But for pork farmers, things at least look on the up, after a torrid start to the year when a shortage of butchers resulted in a back-up of animals on farm.

This backlog is now “largely cleared”, the AHDB said. (Meat processor, and pig producer, Cranswick said on Tuesday it had “approaching 300 colleagues from the Philippines” after a campaign to attract Filipino butchers.)

With the UK sow breeding herd expected to shrink too, margins may be poised to expand.


Still, it is sheep farmers who look in the hot seat for now.

Lamb prices are up by 11.0% in stores. And while this is being met with a fall in supermarket sales, trade dynamics are supportive.

Exports have been expanding, up by 14.7% in the first nine months of 2022, helped by the weakness of sterling and continued output declines in continental Europe. Meanwhile, imports – at least of fresh lamb – have contracted.

Of course, buoyancy won’t last for ever, with some signs of a larger-than-usual autumn retreat in producer prices.

Still, consumers disappointed at the cost of the Christmas turkey are likely to be dismayed by the price of their leg of lamb for Easter.