The so-called enriched colony system of egg production offers a cheaper and more animal-friendly alternative to free-range, producer Kfresh has claimed.

Under the system hens are reared indoors but have access to astroturf, perches, rest boxes and artificial lighting to simulate dawn and dusk. Kfresh, which supplies Iceland and a number of other smaller retailers, said producers across the country were considering switching their production to a colony system following the decision to outlaw battery cages from 2012.

However, owner Chris Kirkwood warned that retailers had so far shown little interest. "I have encouraged retailers to look at the system but they won't. It appears they have the blinkered attitude that there's only one way to produce eggs and that is free-range."

Using the colony system, eggs could be produced more cheaply than free-range, while mortality rates for the hens were lower, he said.