Egg supply 'just about there now' as prices finally descend, producers hopeful for 'cracking' 2024

By Monique Steele of RNZ

Egg producers are hopeful prices have peaked and the egg shortage of early 2023 will soon be a distant memory.

The country's layer hen population is continuing to grow, meaning there should be more eggs in-market at a cheaper price.

Eggs have been in short supply - and expensive - since the start of the year when a ban on battery-caged hens came into effect, sparking shortages across the country

Egg Producers' Federation executive director Michael Brooks said the layer hen population had grown from 3.4 million in February to 3.8 million - and added there should be another 100,000 more by January.

It had been a "fairly brutal" time for farmers making the costly switch, he said.

Woolworths, formerly Countdown, has committed to selling only cage-free eggs in its North Island supermarket by the end of 2024 and by the end of 2025 in its South Island stores. Foodstuffs is following suit, with no colony eggs in stores by 2027.

Brooks said this move by the supermarkets and the rising cost of grain had intensified the situation for farmers. 

"It's been a very tough couple of years for the layer hen farming industry," he said. "There's been huge financial pressures on farmers... It was a minimum of $1 million just to change from the old-style cage to the colony cage, then if you were going into free range that meant buying a whole new farm, a new set up. So, some really big costs and a lot of investment.

"All those things had an impact, so it's lead to a pretty messy situation, and it's taken a while for the supply to bounce back, but it is just about there now."

Egg prices had come off historic highs, with Stats NZ's latest figures showing them falling for the third month in a row since the peak in July.

"That's the first time in a good couple of years we've started to see maybe it's topped out in terms of prices," Brooks said. 

"Prior to that, for the past couple of years, it's just been up and up and up - as consumers will know.

"But consumers will understand, I believe, that there are all these external pressures that have come onto farmers. It's been rugged. Not just general inflation but a whole range of other factors coming into the situation."

Brooks said it was an extraordinary situation this year, but he was hopeful supply would be secured into the new year and prices should be more reasonable.