UK turkey magnate Bernard Matthews dies at 80

Bernard Matthews, who parlayed an investment in 20 eggs into a business that became Britain's biggest turkey processor — once raising the birds in the rooms of a large country home — has died at age 80.

Matthews died Thursday at his home, the company said Friday. The cause of death was not announced.

"Bootiful" — Matthews' Norfolk-inflected pronunciation of "beautiful" — became one of Britain's best-known advertising slogans in a series of television ads in the 1980s.

In recent years, however, the company was targeted by animal rights groups for its intensive farming, and sales were hit in 2007 when one farm reported Britain's first outbreak of bird flu.

One of the company's products, Turkey Twizzlers, was singled out five years ago by TV chef Jamie Oliver as an example of excessively fatty food in school meals, and the product disappeared from many lunch menus.

Matthews, who stepped down as chairman of the company in January, started the business in 1950 with 20 eggs and a secondhand incubator. A dozen eggs hatched, Matthews sold the chicks at a profit and he was on his way.

Three years later he bought a derelict country house, Great Witchingham Hall, where he and his wife, Joyce, raised turkeys in all but one of the 36 rooms. It is still the company headquarters.

Matthews became something of an evangelist for turkeys, and presented one of his dressed birds to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev at a Moscow trade fair in 1964.

A promised contract never materialized, Matthews said in an interview with The Independent newspaper in 2004, but "I used to have Russian delegations coming here nearly every year, and they'd sit around this table asking question after question, and writing like hell in their notebooks — and they never paid me for it or anything."

The company expanded internationally, operating Bernard Matthews Oldenbrug GmbH in Germany and Saga Foods in Hungary. The company sold its New Zealand operation in 2007.

Last year, the company reported an operating profit excluding exceptional items of 2.5 million pounds ($3.9 million) up from 900,000 pounds in 2008, on revenue of 330 million pounds.

Matthews is survived by his wife, four children and six grandchildren.