Boparan, who owns East Anglian turkey giant Bernard Matthews, said the staff would work at his turkey processing centres in East Anglia, easing labour shortage fears he raised earlier this year.
In September, it was announced 5,500 poultry workers from the EU would be able to work in the UK ahead of Christmas. There were concerns that new post-Brexit immigration rules combined with the impact of the pandemic had led to a record number of food manufacturing workers returning to their home countries, leaving poultry processing plants with huge labour shortages.
“With just a few weeks to go until Christmas, it is very good news to be able to report that here we are in mid-November, and we’re well on the way to plugging the job gaps for the massive volume increases we get during this time of year," said Boparan.
'Enough turkeys to go round'
“Our teams have been working incredibly hard to process almost 900 applications for the seasonal worker scheme and we’ll be seeing the first arrivals at our factories in the coming days. This means we should be able to fulfil all our projected orders for turkeys and there will be enough turkeys to go around. Everyone should be able to source their Christmas turkey this year, which is great news."
Boparan, who is also the founder and president at 2 Sisters Food Group, explained the workers – sourced from countries such as Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Romania and Bulgaria – would provide essential support at a time when production volumes would grow by up to 400%.
“We can sometimes be quick to criticise and challenge the Government, as I have done myself on several occasions, but we also need to say thank you when we think they’ve got it right and they deliver. The bottom line is that this has helped us save Christmas, not only for us, but all producers in this sector, and of course for the consumer.
'Similar arrangements for next year'
“I am hopeful similar arrangements could be made for next year, and with an earlier visa process start date, this could make it even more successful. Labour as a key structural challenge for our sector is here for 12 months of the year, and it’s one that’s not going to go away.
“We simply don’t want to see our industry shrinking when the demand is as big as ever, especially at Christmas. It would be silly to plug any gaps by using imports, for instance. We don’t think the British consumer wants to see that, so hopefully the same temporary arrangements can also be made for 2022.”
Andrew Brodie, people & communications director at poultry producer Avara Foods told Food Manufacture: "We are pleased with how the visa scheme has operated so far, but it's early days, and we will be better placed to comment once everyone is on site and Christmas production is further advanced.
"We remain optimistic that it will make a difference, despite arriving late in the day, and are confident that it demonstrates the benefits of a well-planned solution for 2022, through membership for poultry in the Seasonal Agriculture Workers Scheme.”
'Saviour to many small seasonal producers'
Paul Kelly, managing director of Kelly Turkeys said: "The visa scheme has also been a saviour to many of the small seasonal producers that deliver Christmas for local butchers and sales from the farm gate. There is no longer a rural workforce available to help on the farms for the 4 weeks before Christmas. Thirty years ago a 1000 acre farm would employ 10 people. Today that has reduced to 1 or 2.
Without a visa scheme these small farmers that produce for over 1 million turkeys at Christmas will shrink to levels not seen since the 1990s before freedom of movement."
Boparan intends to write to the Government and MPs local to his turkey sites extending his thanks for the scheme's success.
His comments came after chief executive of the British Poultry Council Richard Griffiths told the Evening Standard as the deadline looms to recruit workers under the poultry visa scheme that half the visas had been taken up. It was enough to 'get us over the line' and prevent a turkey shortage said Griffiths, although there would not be the same variety of turkey products on offer this year.