Noble Foods has launched a new branded egg in a bid to invigorate the category and boost free-range sales.

The Happy Egg Co will focus on promoting the wellbeing of its hens, which will live on Freedom Foods-accredited farms.

Branded eggs will go on sale in yellow boxes in Asda, Sainsbury's, Tesco, The Co-operative and Morrisons this month, rsp £1.58 for six medium eggs and £1.78 for large.

They will be backed by a national TV advertising campaign this year, representing a further move by the company toward animal-welfare and environmentally-friendly production systems following the creation of Ecowise free-range eggs last year.

Happy Egg farms had been set up to give hens the best possible environment and followed years of research into hen behaviour, said technical director Andrew Joret.

"We observed hens on the farm and discovered what they seem to enjoy doing, and enhanced their environment accordingly," he said. "The result is happier, healthier free range flocks that produce excellent quality eggs."

The company was currently establishing projects with major British universities to further research hen behaviour, Joret added.

Egg consumption rose 3% last year to just under three billion occasions, driven largely by demand for free-range products, according to new TNS data. Free-range eggs represent 56% of egg sales. The majority of eggs are sold under supermarkets' own label.

Meanwhile, Noble Foods has also launched a new scheme this year to provide egg producers with free salmonella insurance. Producers have to pass an audit and be part of the Lion scheme to be eligible for insurance.

Noble had made the move following the introduction of new national control regulations on salmonella this month, it said. It hoped the insurance would help address the absence of Government compensation for businesses suffering from an outbreak, and expected it to receive wide industry support.