Turkey production will be a key growth area within the Irish poultry sector, according to Professor Geoff Simmons from Queen’s University in Belfast.

“Mintel research confirms that Irish consumers now regard turkey as an important protein source,” he said.

“It is also perceived as being extremely low in fat.”

Prof. Simmons spoke at the recent Poultry Industry Education Trust annual conference in Co. Tyrone.

He confirmed that Irish consumers are also prepared to pay that little bit extra for chicken with a strong local provenance.

“Shoppers are keen to ensure that Irish farmers receive a realistic price for the chicken they produce.

“The Irish poultry meat market is primed for future growth over the coming years. Driving this is chicken’s low-fat content and the fact that it represents excellent value for money

 Consumers also regard chicken as a very versatile meat. It allows them to cook dishes very easily from scratch.

Prof. Simmons confirmed that the poultry sector has been a big beneficiary from the 2015 World Health Organisation (WHO) report, which indicated that red meat is a possible carcinogen.

“We now know that 31% of Irish consumers have cut back on the quantities of beef and lamb they eat, in the wake of the WHO's report.

The horse meat scandal also damaged the integrity of the red meat sector in Ireland. It has yet to recover from this body blow.

Looking to the future, Prof. Simmons said that Irish consumers want to eat chicken that has been produced under the highest possible welfare and environmental conditions.

“These remain key priorities for the industry, as is the need to ensure the minimal use of antibiotics within the sector.

“The most recent research confirms that 25% of Irish consumers want to increase the level of protein in their diet. This is particularly the case with younger people.

“And they regard poultry meat as the most effective way of achieving this objective," he added.

Concluding, he said: “Brexit is looming and with it will come increasing economic uncertainty. Under these circumstances, consumers will opt to source the cheapest forms of protein they can buy. And chicken falls very neatly into this category.”