New Zealand’s egg supply issues may finally be over, with the national laying hen population rising to a “pretty good” flock of 3.9 million.

Egg Producers Federation director Michael Brooks told 1News that national egg supply going into January is “looking pretty good” after a tricky 2023 for farmers and suppliers.

“[At the] start of last year the flock had dropped to 3.4 million hens due to a range of issues and now flock numbers are heading back to 3.9 million,” he said.

He said hens can lay “about every 26 hours” and 65% of the associated costs with raising an egg come from feed, which is where grain prices and inflation play a large role in the overall price of eggs.

Brooks said much of the shortages stemmed from worldwide grain prices increasing due to the war in Ukraine, which is a “big player” in global grain export.

“Even though New Zealand doesn’t get [its] grain from Ukraine, the problems there still have an impact here on grain cost as well as general inflation,” Brooks said.

Brooks said the industry has gone through “a lot of churn and change” in a short period of time, including the ban on battery-caged eggs, which were the cheapest to supply.

He said over a third of the flock are in colony-cages which meet quality and welfare requirements while also being cheaper, helping maintain the affordability of eggs for consumers.

However, he said the decision by supermarket chains Foodstuffs and Woolworths to also phase out colony-caged eggs in the coming years could create “quite a sizeable problem.”

“The two supermarket chains have decided they won’t stock colony eggs by 2026 or 2027, even though they’re entirely lawful, of course that means they’re only going to be selling barn and free-range eggs,” he said.

“That together with the supermarket competition, the grain prices, Covid… that’s a lot of impact on an industry already and a lot of changes coming at it.”

He also said it will take time for farmers to adjust to the new system, similar to when they transitioned out of the old caged-hen system.

“So while the flock numbers are back now, there’s potential that in a couple of years’ time we could be back in a confused market because of the changes,” he said.

Egg supply back to ‘good level’ – Foodstuffs

In a statement to 1News, Foodstuffs said pressure was put on egg supply at the beginning of 2023 when government legislation came into effect banning battery farmed eggs.

“We’re pleased to say egg supply in Foodstuffs stores are back to good levels,” said Foodstuffs spokesperson Emma Wooster.

She said in terms of the price of eggs, suppliers have faced a lot of inflationary pressures in the last year including the price of power, transportation and fuel.

“While we all absorb what we can, it’s these increases that often contribute to an overall retail price of a product,” Wooster said.

She said their teams are focused on “fighting inflation on all the everyday products New Zealanders need and buy” throughout 2024.

The Warehouse ‘ruffles feathers’ with new deal

On Tuesday The Warehouse unveiled the latest addition to their pantry essentials range by offering a dozen Farmer Brown Fresh colony cage size 6 eggs for $5 in all stores across the country.

The retailer ran the same deal for one week in December last year and saw “thousands” of cartons sold, prompting the decision to make the low price permanent.

“We’re focusing on bringing grocery prices down in a tough grocery market,” said chapter area lead for buying and design at The Warehouse Group Jenny Pike.

Pike said they are “striving to be the cheapest go-to for breakfast and lunchbox essentials for Kiwi families” and responding to what Kiwis want in the market.

Currently the eggs go for $8.39 online at Countdown and New World, and $7.59 at Pak’nSave.