Demand for free range eggs continues to eat into the caged egg market

A major new marketing initiative by Noble Foods involves sponsorship of the local weather forecast on ITV’s Good Morning Britain breakfast programme
A major new marketing initiative by Noble Foods involves sponsorship of the local weather forecast on ITV’s Good Morning Britain breakfast programme

Demand for free range eggs is continuing to soar, according to the latest market figures disclosed to FarmingUK by Noble Foods.

Noble, the country’s biggest egg company, said that the market for free range eggs was up by eight per cent in the 52 weeks to January 2. Rob Newell, the company’s marketing director for the shell division, said that this growth was “at the expense of other egg types.” He said, “Growth remains in organic but at a lower level. The Big & Fresh brand also continues to perform well in its sector.” He said that there was no reason to expect a change in these trends.

The figures reflect what some people in the industry have been saying – that they see no let up at the moment in the demand for free range eggs. Andy Crossland, trading manager with Central Egg Agency, told FarmingUK at the turn of the year that there was some way to go before the market was likely to get into trouble.

Andy said sales of free range were growing not only in the shell egg sector but also in processing and food service. “Supplies haven’t caught up with demand yet. They are still trading at phenomenal money on the spot market. We usually see a bit of tidying up in January, a bit of surplus, but I think it will soon get back on the rails,” he said.

The figures disclosed by Noble indicate that growth in the market was still strong up to January 2. Although some people in the industry are concerned about free range drifting into oversupply, Sarah Louise Fairburn, brand and sales director with L J Fairburn & Son, said at the beginning of the year that she expected the move from cage to free range to continue in 2016. “It’s going to be more of the same. Free range will grow, organic will grow, speciality egg will grow,” she said.

Return of eggs to breakfast

One of the big drivers of the continued growth has been the return of eggs to the breakfast menu. There has been a significant increase in consumption of eggs at breakfast time, so it is, perhaps, no coincidence that a major new marketing initiative by Noble Foods should involve sponsorship of the local weather forecast on ITV’s Good Morning Britain breakfast programme. Noble is using the sponsorship to promote the company’s high welfare happy egg brand, and Rob said it was just the start of an even bigger promotion of happy egg this year.

“The ITV Good Morning Britain local weather sponsorship, kicks off an exciting year for the happy egg co,” he said. “It’s part of a wider integrated campaign that will see several marketing bursts throughout the year, designed to ride on the positive momentum for eggs in terms of animal welfare, health benefits and consumer desire for provenance and transparency - whilst showing consumers why the brand is worth paying a little more for.”

Rob told FarmingUK that breakfast consumption of eggs was “definitely on the up, with consumers switching away from sugary cereals. There is also a movement towards eating breakfast at different parts of the day. Eggs remain good news for consumers from a health perspective. The new year focus on slimming is set to give the category an additional boost.”

The British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) produced figures confirming that Britons were eating more eggs at breakfast time. Statistics collated by market research specialist Kantar Worldpanel showed that the number of breakfast occasions featuring eggs had increased by 7.4 per cent up to June 21 last year.

“Brits are returning to cooked breakfasts, but with healthier choices such as scrambled or poached eggs replacing fatty fry-ups, according to the research,” said Andrew Joret, BEIC chairman. “While fewer than one per cent of Brits now eat a ‘full English’ every day, Britain’s love affair with a cooked breakfast is far from over.” He said, “We’ve seen a significant increase in eggs being eaten at breakfast in recent years. We’ve put this down to families wanting to enjoy the cooked breakfast experience, but in a healthier way.”

Egg sales overall have increased by 22 per cent over the last seven years and were up by a further five per cent in 2015, led by an increase in people eating eggs for breakfast. Demand for free range eggs is growing even faster – undoubtedly aided by price cuts amongst supermarkets competing for customers. Free range eggs have been used as a weapon by the big chains in an attempt to prevent foreign discounters taking more of the retail market in the UK.

Eggs seen as a healthy choice

With fears about cholesterol now dismissed, eggs are seen as a very important part of a healthy diet. They have been shown to contain a wide variety of important nutrients for health, and breakfast is seen as the meal that sets consumers up for the day ahead. “It’s no secret that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so it’s great to see that it’s getting healthier,” said nutritionist Cath McDonald. “High protein foods such as eggs give people a fantastic start to the day, as they will fill you up and help stop you snacking.”

The BEIC said it believed that greater consumption of eggs at breakfast was one of the key drivers in the growth of demand for eggs. Eggs were now widely recommended by health experts as part of a healthy diet, with scares over salmonella and confusion around cholesterol a thing of the past, said Andrew.

Eggs were a rich source of high quality protein, vitamins and minerals, and health experts were recommending that increased consumption of eggs could be beneficial for several key population groups. The BEIC believed that the recent publicity about sugar would also encourage consumers to choose eggs for breakfast, he said.

Noble Foods said that breakfast television sponsorship would capitalise on the growing trend for eggs at breakfast. The promotion for happy egg will air daily up until the beginning of July and will be seen by 37 million families. The company said that it would reinforce the brand’s distinct point of difference by showcasing real farms to demonstrate how the happy egg co ‘gold standards’ in hen welfare differed from other free range standards.

The happy egg brand was first introduced by Noble Foods in the United Kingdom in 2009 and by 2010 it had established itself as the biggest brand in the UK egg category. Rob Newell told FdarmingUK that the brand continued to perform well “in the face of a very competitive market place.” He said, “2016 will see a very active happy egg campaign aimed at communicating to consumers a range of things that the brand does to set itself apart. There will be further exciting developments as we move through the year,” he said.

In 2012 Noble took the happy egg brand across the Atlantic to the United States, where the vast majority of eggs have traditionally been produced in cages. Since then, the company has repeatedly increased the size of its US flock, with happy egg’s American chief executive, David Wagstaff, subsequently saying that the free range category was now “booming” in America. In September 2014, Noble Foods was presented with the International Egg Commission’s Golden Egg award for its success in introducing the happy egg brand to the US.

In 2014 Noble launched an organic version of happy egg in the United Kingdom. Happy egg organic was subsequently introduced to the US market, too.