THE NATIONAL FLOCK has grown by 3.5 million hens in the past year, to 42 million, according to Noble Foods’ head of agriculture Jean-Paul Michalski.

Of that total, 55.4% are organic, free range or speciality and 44% are caged, with the balance made up by barn-kept birds.

About 56% go to retail as fresh shell eggs, food service takes around 23% and the remaining 21% goes to processing.

When it comes to retail, just under 70% of eggs are now free-range, and colony takes the remaining 30%. “Cage has declined quite considerably this year as we’re transitioning to 2025,” Mr Michalski told an Alltech roadshow meeting.

Noble Foods own supply balance is 6.8 million free-range and 4.1 million colony, he said, adding that the firm had recently made a major investment in barn production.

“We’re very lucky – eggs are a fantastic sector to be in,” said Mr Michalski. “Milk, beef and lamb are in decline, people are eating less and less every year, with eggs people are eating more.”

He explained that this year British consumers would eat more eggs than before the salmonella crisis in the late 1980s, with consumption now standing at about 200 per capita.

But there was headroom for further growth, with the EU average being about 220/person, and regions like South America and Brazil often recording more than 300 eggs/person a year.

Value is generally improving, said Mr Michalski, as consumers traded from colony to free-range, and from free range up to speciality and even organic brands of egg.

And sales across most retailers are in growth. Combined, the two discounters Aldi and Lidl now sell more eggs than the market leader Tesco (23.6%).

Looking at individual retailers’ growth, Aldi and Lidl are leading with sales up 3.4% and 3.3% in the past year respectively. Morrison’s has been pushing egg sales, in particular, pick your own, and has grown 2.8% and Tesco 2.2%.

Sainsbury’s and Co-op are broadly flat, while Iceland has recorded a modest decline, as it pulls promotions from value egg as it looks to 2025.