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Demand picks up, so do bird numbers

Things have improved a bit for the egg sector as demand picks up again after the summer slow-down.

With the holidays over, there has been an uptick in activity all across the supply chain, from packers through to wholesalers and retailers.

The wholesale trade has firmed for both colony and free-range eggs, although there is still a lot of ground to make up, and the picture is patchy across the sizes.

At the Central Egg Agency prices on the 2 largest sizes have recovered the ground lost over the last couple of months, but are still significantly down on the levels in the spring (see chart below).

Mediums and Smalls remain weak, reflecting the ongoing influx of new free range flocks. This weakness has spilled over into the colony sector, even though this category is contracting.

Latest DEFRA figures show the lead taken by free range over colony production widening in the second quarter, to 56,000 cases a week (see chart alongside). Free range output rose by an average 12,000 cases a week, and colony fell by 7,000, compared with the first quarter of the year.

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This time a year ago there was a sharp rise in wholesale prices, despite the growth in the laying flock, when the Fipronil scare created a Europe-wide shortage. It will be interesting to see how things pan out this year, according to Andy Crossland at the Central Egg Agency.

“There’ll certainly be a bit more egg around this year than there was last year,” he said.

“It’s been a tough summer, with sketchy demand and a lot of egg out there.

“There’s now a better feel to it, but we normally see a lift this time of year, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. Hopefully this will continue, but there’s a lot of birds coming, so it could prove to be demanding as well.”

The next big challenge to the market is just around the corner, based on the latest chick placings. After levelling off for the next two months, the size of the UK laying flock looks set to reach a new record before the year-end. This could see a million more birds come into lay between October and November.

Ken Randall

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