Nuffield Scholar - 2017 - JAMES CORBETT

James Corbett

I grew up on a family farm where my parents have produced and sold eggs since I was born. I studied at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne for both my undergraduate degree and my MA in International Financial Analysis. After University I joined Deloitte where I qualified as an accountant working with entrepreneurs and privately owned businesses many of whom were in the food, agricultural or rural industry. After ten years I left and entered the egg industry working for the UK’s second largest egg packer and producer. I thoroughly enjoyed working with both producers and retail customers in growing the business and initiating new ideas and strategies in the industry.

I currently work for a food company who produce and pack eggs as well and producing chicken for a leading UK food business. 

My wife is a farmer and we live in Wiltshire with our two children.

I am incredibly grateful to my sponsor the BEMB Trust for the opportunity to undertake a Nuffield Faming Scholarship

Study Overview

The global egg industry is at the start of a period of significant change. What’s more, the change is happening fast. For the last forty years, cage and colony egg production has been the dominant egg produced and sold across the world. That is now changing as barn and free range egg production are increasing and, in some countries, legislation is being brought in to ban the production of caged egg. This change is coming about after pressure from NGOs over perceived animal welfare concerns, and large multinational companies are focusing more attention on how and where they source their agricultural products.

Currently the UK egg market is predominantly split between colony and free range egg production, with the split around 45% and 55% respectively. Retailers and some food companies have made commitments to stop selling and/or using colony eggs from 2025, preferring to have cage free eggs instead. This is a relatively short time frame to change a supply chain that only very recently invested in the colony egg production system.

The main aim of the report was to look at what was the alternative to colony egg production for the UK and how other countries in the world were tackling the same question. In most other countries there is a proportion of barn eggs which is an indoor, non caged production system. However, this has never really established itself in the UK with only a small number of eggs produced under this method. Producers and packers were visited in USA, Australia, New Zealand and Norway as these had strong correlations to the UK market or consumer trends.

Customers are wanting more cage free eggs - but what does cage free mean? Is that more free range eggs or is it more barn eggs? The answer is different for each country. There are a number of factors that influence this such as climate, affordability and disease. However, in both choices different interpretations are appearing. These were clear to see in things like production system design, size and scale and marketing.

The UK has by far the most developed free range egg market. A choice needs to be made whether the market moves to predominantly free range egg, or whether the barn egg sector is grown considerably. Whatever the outcome it will require substantial investment, and it is key that the right decision is made. It is important this is made with full customer and retailer support to allow commitment and confidence to be built on. The UK egg industry is one of the best in the world and part of this is down to its customer focus and ability to adapt. Its continued success depends upon continuing to be successful at these, but it has an important decision to make.

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