Essex turkey entrepreneur Paul Kelly of Kelly Turkeys celebrates major US breakthrough as USDA grants US-wide licence for premium birds destined for Thanksgiving market

Paul Kelly with a flock of Kellybronze turkeys in Virginia, USA, Picture: KELLY TURKEYS

Paul Kelly with a flock of Kellybronze turkeys in Virginia, USA, Picture: KELLY TURKEYS - Credit: Kelly Turkeys

An Essex premium turkey entrepreneur is celebrating a major breakthrough in his bid to sell his birds across the United States.

Paul Kelly, of Kelly Turkeys in Danbury, has been given the green light to operate across the country, after he was granted a full United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) licence for his KellyBronze processing plant in Virginia, set up four years ago at cost of £1.8m.

Until now turkeys from the Crozet plant have only been allowed to retail in the state of Virginia. Last year the plant was given a provisional licence subject to checks.

“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, whose friend and partner in the business, Judd Culver, has been working hard to achieve the status.

The facility at Crozet has become the only plant officially licensed in the US to dry pluck and hang turkeys in the way traditional turkeys are prepared in the UK.

Ironically, turkeys handled in this way were once known as ‘New York dressed’ birds, named after the way they were prepared ahead of the long journey from farms in the Mid West. The practice spread to the UK where dry plucking and hanging for 10 to 14 days is routinely used to enhance the flavour and appeal of the traditional Christmas turkey.

In the US, cheap frozen turkey is a popular choice for Thanksgiving – but Paul believes that, just as in the UK at Christmas there is a strong niche market for top quality, fresh turkeys, there is an untapped market for a premium alternative in the USA at Thanksgiving.

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The turkeys have been enthusiastically received by leading butchers in New York and Washington, and this year more than 2000 KellyBronze turkeys will be sold with plans to expand up to 3000 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 a dollar a pound. Ours are more like 10 dollars a pound,” said Mr Kelly. “People there say to me ‘Get over it. No matter how good yours are, they’re not going to sell here. We have already proved that wrong.”

Around 60m turkeys are sold into the Thanksgiving market.

“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,” said Paul.

“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.”