THE UK egg market improved slightly during September, although the sector will be hoping for a better tone as it starts the run-up to Christmas.

While colony egg prices continued to rally during September, free-range failed to gather any further momentum.

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Current wholesale prices for colony eggs have moved closer to their peak levels over the past four years (see chart below).

Large colony eggs have gained around 40p/doz since the market fell into disarray in the mid-summer; and are within 15p of their high point last spring, when the first lockdown began.

This recovery is primarily the result of significant reductions in the size of the colony flock – an attempt to stabilise the free-range market, which continues to expand ahead of actual demand.

Meanwhile, wholesale free-range egg prices have pulled themselves up from the rock-bottom prices of the summer, when they dropped below where the current colony price is now.

This still leaves them at the bottom of what may be considered their normal range and up to 30p/doz below where they stood this time last year.

Estimates based on chick placings indicate that the number of laying birds in the UK up to 18 months of age, taking both sectors combined, is on a par with the long term trend.

After November, that number looks set to fall, at least briefly, to an historic low, leading to hopes that the market may strengthen further before the new year.

This turbulent period for the egg market is likely to continue while the retail sector moves towards its goal of abandoning caged eggs by 2025.