With poult prices creeping up, it is expected that it won’t be long until they hit the dreaded £5 mark. But what is behind the rise in prices, and could it have wider implications for the sector?
It isn’t long ago that we all remember paying less than £5 for a pint in the local pub. Once the £5 level was hit, it seemed there was no turning back. It opened the flood gates for others to feel comfortable charging this amount. Generally, the industry tends to follow suit if there is the opportunity to increase income.
However, it would be unfair to say that charging £5 for a poult is about boosting income, rather than simply maintaining income amongst rising costs. With pheasant poults set to cost at least £4.50 this year, and inflation predicted to reach heights not seen for 30 years, the £5 poult doesn’t seem far away.
In theory, there will be nothing new about the £5 poult. The archives show that at different points of history – for example, in the 1930s and 1970s – in real terms the cost of a game poult well exceeded the equivalent of £5 today. This tells us that in recent decades, improved technology and economies of scale has made shooting more accessible: if not to all, certainly to more than was the case before.
There are many factors that will influence the cost of a poult on its journey to £5. As mentioned, inflation is skyrocketing, with a rate of 6% predicted for 2022. Another key factor is feed prices! Mainly due to a lower-than-expected cereal harvest and the ever-increasing cost of raw materials – whilst a spike in protein sources hasn’t helped matters.
Perhaps one of the biggest effects is the rising cost of energy. Expected to impact every single home and business in the UK, this cannot be overlooked.
Energy prices impact overall costs two-fold. First, there is the impact that it has on transport and incoming freight, with imported minerals, vitamins and other supplements already making a noticeable difference. It also has a more direct impact. Game bird farmers and those who rear poults already have high running costs, and the expected increase won’t help. Higher energy prices also make the general running of shoots more difficult – from fuel for getting around to electricity to keep places suitably warm.
Some in the energy sector are projecting gas and electricity to be subject to 70% inflation before the end of 2022 (chick prices are already reported as 10% higher than last year): the inevitable knock-on effect on buildings and repairs necessary for game rearing brings the dawn of the £5 poult closer still.
A final budget allocation that needs to be remembered is labour! Without adequate levels of labour, a rearing birds and running a shoot is simply not possible. Its thought that to rear 150,000 birds requires at least four full-time staff for four months. With legislation increasing the minimum wage coming into force soon, the bill for employees could go up by around 10%.
The negative reaction would be simply to cut corners: reduce the specification of feed; make do with less labour; and essentially penny pinch all round in an effort to curb expenditure. This is not the advised approach; yet it is one some will adopt in the vain hope all will be well.
A shortfall in labour risks some jobs being botched, or simply not done at all. Skimping on feed almost always results in birds losing body condition, resulting in the ensuing financial drain of lagging birds. At those times when consumption is low, feed must be designed to maximise nutritional intake so as to assist the natural development of the bird.
There are a few positives to draw from an increase in poult prices (even if it may not seem so!). If a poult costs more, one expects it to be more valued – resulting in a higher status and the opportunity to charge a little more for a day’s shooting. By valuing our birds to a greater degree, there is the chance to reduce mortality rates and achieve a day’s sport from a smaller bag than in the past.
The £5 poult is likely to be with us within the next couple of years, it might even manifest itself as soon as 2023. It is to be hoped the advent of it needing a sterling note over coins to purchase this fledging bird will make us value it beyond just its monetary worth.
What is perhaps most important to remember in this time of constant and varied price increases is to add value wherever possible. From welfare standards practised, to how we procure stock and how the birds, ultimately, enter the food chain. Being a member of organisations such as the British Game Assurance allows added value, whilst showing the outside world that it is self-regulation that is going to help us thrive as we move forward.