A decision by the UK’s major retailers to only source non-cage eggs from 2025 will take about 775million eggs a year off supermarket shelves. The shortfall is expected to be met by both barn and free range systems.

A sustainability report commissioned by the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) estimates that if demand for free range eggs from major retailers increases by 5% in 2025 then an additional 1.8million laying hens are required. That number jumps to 2.7million hens if demand grows by 10%.

Robert Gooch, BFREPA's chief executive, said: “The free range sector has grown rapidly to occupy about 60% market share of retail egg sales, produced by over 20million hens.

“We have a great track record in producing a safe, quality product that consumers value enormously and, while 2025 may seem a long way off, our members are looking ahead at how they can meet any increase in demand.

“We are perfectly positioned to deliver what retailers and major food brands need, and we urge them to make British free range eggs a major part of their sourcing policy going forward.”

Mr Gooch noted that the recent Fipronil scandal which affected Dutch eggs sold in products in major supermarkets highlights the risks associated with relying on imported food.

He said: “The case for sourcing more British eggs is overwhelming. We have a ready-made assurance scheme in the form of the Lion Code which delivers everything that retailers need and consumers demand.”

Significant investment estimated to be £58million in new housing and equipment in the free range sector would be required to meet a 5% increase in demand.

Mr Gooch said: “Free range producers are not afraid of investment and expansion provided they have the confidence that there will be a market for their product.

“This is why it is important that retailers are clear and committed to British free range egg producers, and that they set out their procurement plans for post 2025 as soon as possible.”