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News and analysis on the global poultry
and animal feed industries.
Broilers & Layers / Egg Production
on May 20, 2012

UK poultry, egg consumers adjusting to economic challenges

Chicken meat, egg sales hit by trading down

The UK market for poultry meat and eggs has not been immune to ongoing economic difficulties in the country, including a decline in national sales of poultry breast meat, according to British Poultry Council chairman John Reed, who spoke at the 2012 British Pig and Poultry Fair.

Shoppers in the UK are switching to more dark meat and whole birds, due at least in part to their need to economize by cooking more meals at home instead of eating out, said Reed. The trend is likely to continue as consumers choose more value or standard products rather than paying extra for standard-plus, organic or free range.

Bird size at slaughter is also altering in response to the weak market. Several years of increasing broiler weights in the UK ended with the first economic crisis in 2007 and, since then, the average weight of bird marketed has declined. The reasons are thought to be due to cutbacks in consumer spending, a national increase in the number of single-person households and the demands coming from fast-food companies to supply them with a highly weight-specified raw material, according to Reed.

UK egg outlook  

Demand for free-range eggs in the UK has collapsed, new data suggest. According to the latest figures on retail sales, for the first time in years the share of free range has dropped to below half the total market. Some 5 percent have been lost in the last year alone, with free range’s share of sales standing at 53 percent as recently as May 2011.

The reason is price, says the chief executive of Europe’s largest egg business, Peter Thornton, who addressed a discussion on the UK poultry meat and egg outlook at the Pig and Poultry Fair. A massive and growing differential has opened up over the past three months in the retail price for various egg categories, said Thornton. Customers have reacted by buying fewer free-range eggs and choosing instead lower-priced cage type. Sales of cage eggs at major retailers have surged this year by some 20 percent.

“In the current economic situation, the retail environment is very tough,” said Thornton. “Consumers are trading down and buying less. Over 40 percent of their purchases at present are grocery items being sold on promotion. For us, the big thing happening is the trading down from free-range to cage eggs, yet the free-range people are still talking of expansion. Although it is likely that the current demand for cage eggs will moderate, free-range producers should still take at least a two-year view of the market outlook, rather than trying to fill an expected short-term gap in supplies.”

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