2020 has been a year of disruption like no other in recent years.

Uncertainty triggered by the Brexit referendum in 2016 pales in significance to the chaos caused by the covid-19 pandemic.

To mark the end of the year, we asked a cross-section of senior poultry industry leaders in both the egg and chicken sectors to give us their thoughts about the year just past, and the one to follow.

Mark Williams, chief executive, British Egg Industry Council

Mark Williams

“The British Egg industry’s main priorities are: to continue to protect flocks against Avian Influenza; to ensure the eight tariff lines on eggs and egg products are not eliminated or reduced in trade deals with non-EU countries with significantly lower animal welfare standards; to ensure that as EU laws on public sector procurement no longer apply, to promote British ingredients within food products and across the public sector through procurement in our schools, hospitals, and many other public institutions.”

Richard Griffiths, chief executive, British Poultry Council

“The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the value and purpose of food and demonstrated the importance of resilience in our food supply chains.

While there have been difficulties at times, our safe and secure supply chains has managed to feed this country throughout this crisis.

 This national emergency has also helped reinforce the crucial role played by those working in farming and food production in delivering safe, wholesome, and affordable food for the nation.

The combination of avian influenza, the coronavirus pandemic, and a tight, non-negotiable Brexit deadline has put significant pressure on UK food producers and proven yet again the vulnerability of Britain’s food security.

The BPC looks forward to continue working closely with the Government on measures to mitigate any impact on national food security and offset the risk of a supply chain disruption.”

Aimee Mahony, chief poultry adviser, NFU

Aimee Mahony

This past year has been challenging for British poultry producers with the impacts of COVID-19, continued Brexit uncertainty and more recently, the increase in cases of Avian Influenza. 

There is no doubt in my mind that all of those issues will play a role as we move into 2021, but I want to look ahead to what we can achieve as an industry in the next year.

It’s incredibly important the poultry sector continues to work collaboratively towards a more resilient supply chain, so we are better prepared to absorb any unexpected shocks to the market. We already see some recessionary behaviour among consumers, and I think we have an opportunity to solidify the place of poultry meat and eggs as products of choice in shoppers’ baskets. 

The versatility poultry products offer as an affordable protein source is something we should work across the supply chain to shout more about. 

A small but momentous step which I would love the UK to reach is for the average egg consumption per person per year to increase from 199 to 200… and then keep going! I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

David Keeble, director and Brexit lead, Avara Foods

Our priorities are centred around maintaining business continuity. We accept we’ll be working in a new environment and that there are likely to be some short-term export and import challenges, but we’ve been working hard to mitigate these where possible.

“It’s frustrating, however, at the time of writing, that a trade deal has not yet been negotiated.

“We’re focused on ensuring we can continue to trade effectively with Europe and NI post-Brexit, but this is reliant on terms being confirmed, and sufficient time granted for changes to be implemented.

Jean-Paul Michalski, agricultural director, Noble Foods

“Looking back at 2020, Covid-19 is certainly going to make 2020 a memorable year.

“During the first lockdown, demand soared – peaking at +17% – and packers struggled to fulfil orders. What is more, demand has remained high, holding steady at around +10% as work from home eating habits persist.

“Infections in birds have been the other real stand out. Bio-security controls have never been more important as AI comes back with a vengeance and we head into early country-wide housing orders. 

“A tightening of the BEIC Salmonella testing regime provides more evidence that farms face risks from all angles.

“What’s in store for 2021? Managing flocks that were accustomed to ranging and negotiating our way out of the current housing order will be our first hurdle.

“The clock is ticking on the 16 weeks before farms lose free-range status; over labelling, packs is likely to return if birds cannot be released before April.

“We also expect demand for free-range to be strong, driven by higher consumption patterns continuing.

“Additional pressure on supply is also likely as retailers continue preparations for the transition away from colony egg by 2025.

“Getting alternative barn systems into production to replace current value egg is likely to create pressure on the market.

“Lastly, with Brexit looming, WHO tariffs are looking increasingly likely which will inevitably increase import costs, giving opportunity for more UK supplied egg products.