A nationwide shortage of eggs has left retailers scrambling to keep stocks on supermarket shelves.
An increasing appetite for eggs, particularly free-range, has amplified the dip in supply, which usually occurs during the cooler winter months.
“Hens tend to go into a slow egg laying mode,” said Queensland United Egg Producers CEO John Coward.
“We see anything from a 5 to 10 per cent reduction in egg production through those months.”
The slow-down in supply has come as consumption rose 3.5 per cent over the past year, with Australians now cracking 19 million eggs each day.
Mr Coward said increased meat prices had also seen shoppers turn to eggs as a cheaper source of protein.
“People are saying, ‘$5 a kilo for eggs, $25-30 a kilo for steak, maybe I might put a egg dish on the menu for the kids this week’.”
Mr Coward warned it could be “two to three months” before supply rebounded, which may lead to increased prices.
“I haven’t noticed any price increase at the moment,” he said.
“Retailers, obviously being in a very competitive world, will try to keep those down.
“But if they have to start moving eggs around the countryside to meet demand … that would probably put some upward pressure on price.”
Demand continues to grow for free-range
A spokesman for Woolworths told ABC Rural that recent changes to the definition of “free-range” had resulted in particular demand pressures.
Woolworths said it was “working hard with suppliers to ensure we meet demand and expect to return to normal supply shortly”.
State and territory fair trading ministers agreed in March to a 10,000 birds per hectare standard for free-range production.
“Growth, because of consumer demand, is around the free-range area,” Mr Coward said.
“We’re just waiting now for the ministers to put this into legislation.”
Mr Coward said the “free-range” debate had stalled investment in the sector, further adding to the supply problem.
Producers will have to display the stocking density of their hens on free-range egg packaging but the rules governing that were yet to be finalised.
The industry is also seeking further clarification on exactly what the agreed terms of “meaningful access to the outside” will mean for producers.
“That’s the most important part … we want the birds to have the freedom of choice that when the doors open in the morning, the birds can have access to go outside at their will,” Mr Coward said.
Free-range eggs account for roughly 50 per cent of sales.