Organic and free-range eggs have benefited from the scandal

Fresh egg sales in the mults have fallen in the wake of the fipronil egg contamination scandal, with eggs from caged and barn-reared hens being hit particularly hard.

Volume sales in the big four plus The Co-op, Iceland, M&S and Ocado were down 0.6% year on year in the week to 12 August - the week after the scandal started making headlines in the UK - and down 1.9% in the week to 19 August [IRI Retail Advantage].

This was driven by a slump in volumes of ‘standard eggs’ from caged and barn-housed production systems, which fell 9.6% in the week to 12 August and 11.4% the week after.

Organic and free-range eggs appear to have benefited from the scandal, with year-on-year volumes of free-range up 2.2% and 1% in those two weeks, and organic sales rising 6.7% during each week, though not enough to offset overall losses.

Setting aside seasonal variations around Christmas, Easter and events such as Shrove Tuesday, the sales drops registered after the fipronil scare are only the second time unit growth has dipped into negative territory in the past year.

Egg sales have been a runaway success story in recent years, hitting a record high of six billion in July.

A spokesman for the British Egg Industry Council played down fears the fipronil crisis could dent egg sales long term and insisted retail sales for the whole month of August were “normal” for the time of year.

“Egg sales fluctuate week by week and to take any single week won’t necessarily paint an accurate picture, as sales are influenced by many things from promotional activity to the weather,” he said. “In addition, August has traditionally had greater fluctuations than in other months, as demand over the summer is more unpredictable.

“While we do not believe the fipronil issue has had a major or lasting impact on shell egg sales, the good news is the industry is reporting a significant increase in the number of enquiries from foodservice and food manufacturers looking for British Lion eggs and egg products.”

It comes as the FSA this week withdrew a further eight products containing eggs from sale as part of its ongoing investigation into the UK’s exposure to the scandal, which has seen more than 20 million eggs withdrawn from sale over links to Dutch poultry farms where hens were exposed to the insecticide. The latest batch of withdrawals were all cake mixes for use in the catering trade, the FSA said on Thursday (31 August), taking the total number of egg products in the UK linked to the scandal to 39. The withdrawn products all had use-by or best-before dates between January and May 2018.

The FSA last week set out new guidance for manufacturers and retailers, which stipulates any product made with eggs from affected farms in the Netherlands - where the amount of egg accounts for 15% or more of the product and the product is still within date - now needs to be withdrawn.