Supermarkets have apologised to shoppers after many stores sold out of chocolate eggs two days before Easter - but consumers have been warned they may have to get used to buying seasonal goods early.

Shoppers this week reported empty aisles and Easter displays being taken down on Good Friday and turned to social networks to vent their frustration.

When Sainsbury’s Facebook page offered advice on running an egg hunt, one shopper retorted: “It would be great to do a hunt but you have no eggs two days before Easter”. Another said: “I met six other people wandering around wondering why the seasonal aisle had changed to gardening.”

Cadbury - which this week said it had seen “great sell through” of Easter lines - also attracted comments on its Facebook page: “The supermarkets had loads the day after Boxing Day but, funnily enough, I wanted to buy an Easter Egg on Easter weekend.”

Experts blamed the shortages on a retailer drive to improve sell through and cut waste in the supply chain.

Shoppers could no longer rely on being able to buy seasonal items at the last minute, suggested Colin Harper, MD of Storecheck Marketing.

“There is a greater focus on shifting stock early in the season - Christmas goods may sell out earlier this year too,” he said. “This will be an ongoing trend.”

Sainsbury’s and Tesco both told The Grocer they were sorry if shoppers had been unable to buy the eggs they wanted.

“We apologise sincerely if we have disappointed any of our customers,” said a Sainsbury’s spokesman, adding that more people than usual had bought their eggs early.

The reports of shortages follow a 5.5% year-on-year slump in egg sales last year Easter [Kantar Worldpanel], prompting suggestions this had also caused retailers to cut stock.

“There has been a lot of caution this year after the hot weather last Easter left plenty of stock unsold,” said Bryan Roberts, insights director at Kantar Retail. Although retailers would be disappointed to have missed out on sales, the low margins on Easter eggs would have reduced the loss, he added.

However, Tesco said it had stocked extra eggs this year and always aimed to have eggs available throughout the Easter weekend. Asda admitted it had sold out of its £1 eggs but claimed many other eggs and gifts had been available.

Morrisons said it always aimed to sell out of seasonal items, but claimed it had eggs available in the two days before Easter Sunday.