We have a national flock of 36.5 million hens producing around 9.7 billion eggs in the
UK every year for domestic use - that’s an awful lot of eggs! But have you ever
considered how they get from farm to supermarket , and who gets involved with the
egg before it eventually ends up poached on your slice of toast? Well, here I try to
unscramble that journey.
A lot of eggs
Eggs have a relatively short shelf life, it’s not like storing tins of baked beans which last for
months, so the industry has a system which ensures eggs get from farm to retailer within a
matter of days, often on the next day. Impressive eh?! That obligation makes it imperative
that if you have a farm with, say, two flocks of 16,000 laying hens you need to know you
have somewhere for all those eggs to go!
Farmers therefore work with what are known in the industry as ‘packers’ - they are the
middlemen who provide contracts for farmers which commit to an agreed number of eggs
being purchased on a regular basis.
The ‘negotiator’
The role of the packer is to collect the eggs, grade them into size and quality, then pack
them into boxes and sell them to the retail sector where they appear on shelves under
various brand names and labels.
There are around 1,600 farmers with more than 1,000 laying hens in the UK, but there are
only a small number of commercial packers who hold a pivotal position within the egg
industry. Effectively they set the price the farmer gets for his eggs at any given time.
However, the farmer needs a guaranteed market for his thousands of eggs, and feels more
secure with a contract, so the system remains.
The packer negotiates not only with farmers, but with retailers too. The packer has a
powerful role.