As he tucked into his own Christmas turkey, Bernard Matthews must have been relieved that 2006 was over. Hit by the the demise of the Turkey Twizzler and the exposure of animal cruelty – two of his workers had been filmed using a turkey as a baseball – his profits fell by 33% last year. But now, with 160,000 of his birds gassed because they were at risk of the H5N1 virus, is this the end for Bernard Matthews?
Matthews, the portly, tweed-wearing Norfolk farmer, started his empire as a teenager, hatching 12 turkeys from eggs he bought for £2.50. During the 80s and 90s, he expanded his empire into such delicacies as Golden Drummers, Mini Kievs and Turkey Dinosaurs. Now his fortune is estimated at £300m and he is Europe’s biggest turkey manufacturer, farming eight million birds a year. Even if it is unfair to blame Matthews for bringing bird flu to Britain, the spotlight has fallen on his vast sheds full of birds and the conditions in which they are kept.
“The media hasn’t yet feasted on Bernard Matthews’ reputation, but I think it will,” says PR expert Mark Borkowski. “The brand isn’t looking too bootiful. But we’ve seen other brands get over health scares. It depends on the response and speed of it.”