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Free-range egg prices dip as ‘lockdown effect’ ends

The lockdown effect on the egg market has now dissipated as shortages disappear, and the catering and UK tourism sectors have failed to accelerate.

With the Spanish tourism industry also back in trouble, imports from Spain are also weighing on UK price levels.

The colony market has borne the brunt of it, and a sharp two-month correction has now brought wholesale prices for colony eggs back to the levels of a year ago (see chart).

Free-range, with its focus on retail, has been more resilient but mediums (not shown on chart) have taken a big knock with wholesale prices down around 30p/doz over the past month.

“It’s been a quiet few weeks,” said Andy Crossland at the Central Egg Agency. “The whole foodservice and wholesale sector, and mediums and smalls in both categories are in surplus,” he said.

The retail intensity had eased back, added Mr Crossland, and people have gone back to their pattern of pre-lockdown purchases, buying mainly Large free-range now the choice was back on the shelf.

“It’s just a shame that, coming out of lockdown, foodservice hasn’t really gathered any momentum. There’s a lot of medium egg out there that would normally go into foodservice and wholesale. We’ve also had to contend with a lot of cheap imports as well.”

In addition, there was the summer seasonal effect. “Normally we would expect things to turn around a bit as we head into September.”

Meanwhile, the UK laying flock is now starting to recover, after dropping at one point by an estimated 2 million birds compared with its peak last year.

Following an upturn in day-old pullet placings, the laying flock is on course to climb back to just under 38m by November, having fallen at one point to around 36.7m.

However, the flock will still have some way to go before it returns to its peak size of 38.8m last autumn.

Free-range production fell especially sharply.

According to the latest Defra figures, weekly free-range output peaked at 325 cases a week in the middle of last year.

But it has fallen successively each quarter since then, dropping to 307,000 cases a week in April-June this year, a drop of more than 5%.