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After years of unprecedented challenges, the egg sector is feeling more confident and is in growth, producers have reported

Egg producers have hailed the sector’s recovery, with production now back to levels not seen since the start of the egg supply crisis in 2022, driven by increased wholesale and shelf prices, lower production costs and longer retail contracts.

According to data compiled by consultancy ADAS for the British Free Range Egg Producers Association, the size of the national free-range hen flock hit around 27.6 million hens in May, just under the 27.7 million figure seen in the spring of 2022, and more than 1.5 million birds higher than this time last year.

At the same time, the average wholesale free-range egg price hit 151.4p/dozen this month, up 8.1% on last May’s price of 140p/dozen. The figure is 61.8% higher than in May 2022, just before the sector slid into a supply crisis as many producers either left the sector or scaled back production over plunging returns.

BFREPA’s data also showed that the cost of production, at just under 130p/dozen, had fallen by about 7% since its peak in October 2022. However, the sector’s total production capacity, at around 45 million birds, was significantly higher than current production levels, pointing to more potential for growth.

Meanwhile, average retail prices – a key point of concern in the run-up to the crisis – are also significantly up, with analysis of Assosia data for The Grocer showing the average cost of a pack of six eggs had risen by 8.5% to £3.13 between 16 January 2023 and 11 January 2024, with own label seeing a hike of 9.4%.

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“Over the past few years, the British egg sector has faced unprecedented challenges with increased cost pressures and low returns, compounded by the effects of avian influenza,” said Gary Ford, British Egg Industry Council chief executive.

“However, working closely with retailers, we have started to see an increase in hen numbers as cost pressures have started to ease, and returns have improved, leading to growing confidence from egg producers both over the short and medium term.”

Ford explained that the sector had also been boosted by fewer cases of avian flu over the winter period, along with broader availability of insurance.

It follows the publication of data from the NFU’s annual confidence survey, earlier this month, which revealed the egg sector was alone in registering positive confidence levels, scoring particularly highly on short-term security.

“Despite a difficult few years for egg producers, in recent months there have been fewer cases of Avian Influenza, a strong demand for British eggs and following NFU campaigning, a Government review of fairness in the supply chain,” said James Mottershead, NFU poultry board chair. ”This has resulted in an uplift of short-term confidence in the egg sector.

“Everything starts with the farmer, and without them feeling positive, there’s a knock-on effect across the sector,” said Rebecca Tonks, CEO of Cornwall-based egg producer St Ewe, which was why it had focused on keeping farmers “supported and happy” over the past two years, she added.

Growth to continue but challenges ahead

The BEIC said eggs had also seen ongoing year-on-year retail sales volume growth since the turn of the year, and predicted the UK national flock would continue to grow slowly, which would further support with availability.

“However, planning permission barriers are preventing the industry increasing capacity as quickly as it would like, so the BEIC is continuing to lobby government for a planning system that works for the egg sector and delivers for consumers,” said Ford.

Read more: As business confidence collapses, what’s worrying farmers the most in new NFU survey?

Other issues including heavy weather impacting seed for feed and fear of a mutated avian influenza strain by the end of the year were also raised by St Ewe’s Tonks.

“This means some tough decisions for farmers, so keeping confidence amongst the agricultural sector is key,” she added.

Warnings were echoed by the NFU as its recent production survey showed that almost a quarter of egg producers were unlikely or unsure if they would still be producing eggs beyond 2025.

“To secure long-term confidence it is vital for the Government to continue its work to ensure that risk and reward is fairly shared throughout the supply chain,” said Mottershead.

According to The Grocer’s Key Value Items Tracker, using data from Assosia, own label egg prices have stayed pretty flat year on year with twelve packs rising by 3% and six packs rising by 5% in that period. 

Robert Gooch leaves sector

It comes as BFREPA boss Robert Gooch, who headed up the organisation for 13 years and was a prominent advocate for it during the crisis, has exited the organisation. 

“He helped the association face challenges such as avian influenza and the transition to cage-free egg commitments by the retailers,” said BFREPA chair James Baxter.

“Robert helped BFREPA become the leading producers’ association in the UK as the free-range egg sector expanded rapidly and required representation at the highest levels. We wish Robert every success in the future”.