Why is there an egg shortage? Shoppers can expect several months of low supplies

Eggs are usually in plentiful supply in UK supermarkets but this has not been the case for months in some stores  (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Eggs are usually in plentiful supply in UK supermarkets but this has not been the case for months in some stores (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Shoppers are still being met with empty shelves as supermarkets ration supplies amid an egg shortage.

Sainsbury’s and Tesco customers have reported being unable to buy eggs for months, while a branch of Lidl had reportedly allowed customers to buy up to only three boxes at a time.

Meanwhile, a branch of pub chain Wetherspoons was reportedly serving full English breakfasts without eggs.

Several factors, including food shortages, rising energy costs, and bird flu, are contributing to the ongoing egg shortage.

Llyr Jones, whose 32,000 hens supply Tesco, claimed that factors like last year's skyrocketing energy prices caused several farmers to leave the business.

Now that farmers have begun restocking flocks, he claimed it will take some time before things returned to "normality".

Why is there an egg shortage?

Egg farmers are struggling to make enough money amid feed shortages and rising energy costs.

As per the Daily Mail, the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (Bfrepa) said in November: “We warned 10 months ago that producers would pause or halt production if they weren’t paid a fair price for their product, and that the knock-on effect would be fewer hens and fewer eggs.”

In August, Bfrepa called for more support for egg producers amid a chicken feed shortage caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Farming UK reported in July 2022 that Bfrepa had warned that unless egg producers received 40p more per dozen eggs, some would leave the industry or pause production. This would, Bfrepa said, cause egg shortages in six to nine months.

Bfrepa chief executive Robert Gooch told Farming UK: “We welcome the small rise in egg prices in supermarkets but it needs to go further and the money needs to make its way to farmers, not into the pockets of the supermarkets and the egg packers.

“Not one retailer has done what was asked and increased egg prices by 40p. Only then will many producers be able to break even.”

Additionally, an avian flu outbreak is affecting poultry in the UK, with more than 200 cases identified since October 2021. More than 70 premises have reported detecting the disease since October 2022.

Since November 7, bird keepers in England have been required to keep all poultry and captive birds inside to protect their flocks from disease. Many infected birds have also been culled.

The UK’s chief veterinary officer, Christine Middlemiss, said: “We are now facing this year, the largest-ever outbreak of bird flu, and are seeing rapid escalation in the number of cases on commercial farms and in backyard birds across England.

“The risk of kept birds being exposed to disease has reached a point where it is now necessary for all birds to be housed until further notice.”

The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that it believes the “impact on overall supply would likely be minimal,” Sky News reported.

A spokesperson added: “We understand the difficulties that rising costs, combined with the bird-flu outbreak, are causing for farmers and we are working with industry to monitor the egg market.”

When will the egg shortage end?

Egg production “is not a simple switch on, switch off system” the farming organisation NFU Cymru said.

Jones, a farmer in Wales said supermarkets were reluctant at first to pay farmers more for their eggs, which led some to leave the business while others decided not to restock their flocks.

Although farmers who decided to skip restocking were now placing orders for fresh hens, it takes approximately eight months to get hens back on farms and another two months to get them to produce eggs.