The latest figures from Defra underline the almost frantic efforts by the egg industry to maintain the stability of the trade this year as the switch into free-range runs at an accelerated pace.

Since the start of the year, UK colony production has fallen by 33,000 cases a week, a drop of 14 per cent over nine months.

See also: Price rise ‘urgently needed’ for free-range egg farmers

At the same time, free-range output has risen by a similar amount of 30,000 cases a week.

Overall, this has left output slightly down since the start of the year by around 3,000 cases a week.

The chart below demonstrates these trends in colony and free-range output, where the long-term divergence between the two sectors has widened sharply since the end of last year.

The headache is that the expansion of free-range has run ahead of genuine demand from the marketplace.

Although the growth has been matched by cutbacks in colony, the actual demand for colony has not dwindled at the same rate.

So although both colony and free-range prices have improved during the past month, a trend to be expected in the run up to Christmas, the gap between the two has effectively halved on Large since the summer, and almost disappeared on Medium.

“Colony eggs are getting extremely tight as birds have gone out,” said Andy Crossland at CEA.

Meanwhile, free-range was looking better than it had been, he added, but it was still in a surplus situation, a cause for concern.

“This is the first year I’ve known where there are eggs available in November.

Normally at this time of year, any surpluses have already been allocated by the packer-to-packer trade going right through into January.”

All this was going to take time to sort out, said Mr Crossland.

“Retail sales need to move, while processors are still very reliant on the colony sector for 50% of their eggs.

“Prices for colony and free-range are now very close on Mediums, with smaller free-range grades trading out on to colony market to keep them moving.”