Buyers report liquid egg availability fears

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Egg products Food

Food manufacturers sourcing egg products are predicting further price hikes and availability worries as European egg producers struggle to get to grips with changing welfare legislation.

Buyers contacted by this week said they were becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of new rules banning the use of traditional battery cages to produce eggs, which are scheduled to come into force in January 2012.

Although a high percentage of eggs in UK supermarkets already meet the higher standards, caged eggs still account for more than three-quarters of eggs used in processed products such as cakes and quiches.

One buyer said: “We are expecting a tightening in supply as some smaller producers find themselves unable to make the investments and those who can afford the investment phase the switches in order to manage their cash flow and, even if temporarily, reduce their output.”

Another buyer at a leading UK own-label food manufacturer, said the impact of decisions by some supermarkets to use only free-range egg in own-label ranges had put extra pressure on supplies. He added: “We are concerned on availability overall, but especially on free-range, where retailers moving more of their manufactured ranges to free-range has tightened supply to the point where in the last couple of months or so, some manufacturers were unable to get the total volumes they required.”

Egg prices have been going up for about 12 months, he added. “Excluding the normal seasonal variations, the increases on intensive liquid egg have been of the order of 10%. Free-range supply has been much more difficult and above 10%.”

Significant egg shortage

According to the European Egg Processors’ Association (EEPA), there is currently a significant shortage of eggs throughout Europe as farmers reduce the number of birds on farms.

EEPA secretary general Filiep Van Bosstraeten said it would probably take several years for European egg farmers to make the necessary investments to meet the new welfare rules given the difficulty of accessing finance in the current economic climate: “Finance is not easily available to egg farmers and this is slowing down action in many countries.”

He added: “Our members are facing significant difficulties in sourcing eggs for processing. Our industry uses 25-30% of total EU egg production to supply the food industry with high-quality egg products needed as ingredients for a wide range of food products."

The problem was being further exacerbated by increased imports from Germany, where the welfare legislation came into force earlier this year, he said: “In Germany, they imposed this regulation in 2010 and this has resulted in about 20% less production. Germany was already the largest importer of eggs in the EU and its demand for imports is now much higher.”

Egg products hit hardest

The British Egg Information Service said: "The change in legislation is likely to have the biggest impact in the egg products sector, where around one third of eggs are imported. In order to ensure that they are using egg products which reach the required legal and animal welfare standards, food manufacturers should specify British Lion products."

From 2012, it will become illegal to produce eggs from traditional battery cages in the EU. Instead, producers must convert to new 'enriched' cages, which have more space, perches, a scratching area and nest boxes.

Related topics Bakery Chilled foods

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