Mainstream focus needed for poultry

British poultry needs to avoid focusing on niche premium markets or run the risk of exporting mainstream production to countries such as Thailand, a leading producer has warned.

An over emphasis on free range and organic production, as championed by television's Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall, failed to recognise the good work done under mainstream production, such as the Red Tractor scheme, said Philip Wilkinson, non-executive director with the 2 Sisters Group.

He said the industry needed to support Red Tractor production rather than just premium sectors or risk seeing the mainstream sector being exported overseas.

He said consumers needed to be able to make informed choices: "I'm a major supporter of organic, Freedom Foods and Assured Food Standards. We're the only company in the UK that does all those things, but we want people to be able to make choices based on the values of various methods of production."

Speaking at the Sealed Air Cryovac Packforum event in Paris, Wilkinson said there was not enough land in the UK to produce enough free range chicken. He said organic and free range products accounted for 2% of the market, yet received a huge amount of publicity.

Describing Fearnly-Whittingstall's campaign as "unrealistic", he said ordinary consumers would struggle to afford the prices needed for freerange products, particularly in the face of the recession.

He said: "If we put all those birds currently housed onto free range, there wouldn't be a mountain in Scotland or a valley in Wales or any spare business land in any town, city or village that would not have a chicken on it. It's absolutely ludicrous and impossible to achieve. That chicken would sell at approximately four times the price of two for £5 (at Tesco)."