SAINSBURY’S has said it will not rule out importing free-range eggs because of ‘exceptional demand’ brought about by the coronavirus lockdown.

The supermarket has also been stocking barn eggs once again, after previously saying it would be 100% free-range by April this year.

See also: RSPCA Assured restarts physical inspections

Demand for eggs at retail has jumped by about 20% in the past few weeks as shoppers have more time to cook at breakfast and bake.

Last month, it was revealed that Lidl was importing Dutch barn egg to meet its own customer demand.

Sainsbury’s says its own demand is up by about two million eggs a week, and it is understood that it recently wrote to poultry industry leaders explaining it was only able to source about 50% of its free-range requirements from UK farms at present.

The supermarket said it was working to source more eggs from its UK suppliers, but did not rule out imports if it could not meet demand.

“We are also in contact with members of the wider UK egg industry to understand how we can increase our supply even more,” a spokesman said.

“If this is not possible, we have explained that we may be forced to consider temporarily buying from elsewhere to meet demand, while ensuring all the eggs available to our customers meet our high welfare and safety standards.

The retailer also said it was stocking RSPCA Assured barn eggs that were “clearly labelled and the majority of our eggs are still free-range”.

‘Lack of resilience’

In response, Robert Gooch, chief executive of the British Free Range Egg Producers’ Association, wrote to the supermarket to say he felt the shortage betrayed a ‘lack of resilience in your supply chain’.

“For the last three years, your egg producers (those farmers who supply the packers, your suppliers) have been paid a price below the cost of production (including depreciation and finance costs)…

Producer prices

“In a properly functioning supply chain, a shortage would lead to a significant increase in price to producers. While there has recently been some uplift, most producers have still not seen a price increase from your suppliers, the packers.”

He called on the supermarket to expand tracker contracts that offered fairer returns to farmers, adding that some suppliers “do not even have a written contract with their packer”.

“In summary, sourcing importing eggs is not the answer: ethical and sustainable sourcing, fair prices and fair contracts to UK producers is – as set out in your 2020 vision,” Mr Gooch added.