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SA shoppers scramble to find eggs as major retailers run out

| Supplier news

By Nick Wilson – News24

Retailers are scrambling to secure egg supplies as SA's worst ever bird flu outbreak wreaks havoc in the poultry sector.

With top producers such as Astral Foods warning of egg and meat shortages in coming months due to the H5 and H7 avian influenza strains, shoppers in Cape Town and Johannesburg have already noticed emptier shelves.

"I couldn't find any free-range eggs, forcing me to buy the battery-chicken kind," a Capetonian told News24, adding:

To me, that's the equivalent of dripping chemicals into lab bunnies' eyes to formulate better shampoo.

One Johannesburg-based shopper also told of not being able to locate their preferred brand of eggs at Checkers for about a week, a problem that has since recurred, while another also noticed empty egg shelves at a Woolworths store.

Shoprite, which owns Checkers and delivery service Sixty60, confirmed to News24 on Friday that avian influenza is affecting the supply of both chicken and eggs.

"We are working closely with suppliers securing as much stock as possible and utilising our supply chain to transport to regions experiencing shortages," it said.

Woolworths said this is "the case across the market", and it had been "experiencing significant challenges with our supply due to avian flu".

It added that customers "may start to notice empty shelves – particularly in the Gauteng region".

"Avian flu can spread in various ways. Veterinary experts have advised our farmers to keep our free-range hens indoors temporarily to protect their health and welfare, which they have done."

This means in Gauteng, Free State, and KwaZulu-Natal, where hens have been protected indoors for some time, eggs are labelled as "barn eggs from free-range hens" until the risk has passed and our hens are free to roam again".

Woolworths said it is supporting its farmers and suppliers and that they were all working together to "ensure supply returns as soon as possible".

Family-owned retail chain Food Lover's Market is bracing itself for a "high stock shortage of eggs" in the coming months, saying that after discussions with various egg suppliers, it could confirm a "minimum of four to six months of erratic supply".

It said bird flu had impacted the Western Cape for the past two months, but that until now it had been able to manage demand as its egg supplier in the province had a number of farms.

"Unfortunately, most of their farms have now been affected, which affects us in terms of stock."

Food Lover's said the outbreak had also ravaged poultry and egg farms in the inland region, including areas such as Gauteng, over the past three weeks, "causing serious damage to these farms".

It added that two of its five suppliers had "unfortunately closed their doors", with another operating at minimum capacity.  

"The balance of our suppliers are trying to accommodate the influx of orders from our stores as well as outside customers."

The group also expressed its support to chicken and egg farms during this "devastating bout of avian flu", saying that in conjunction with its suppliers it would seek to provide stock where it is safe and possible.

Food Lover's also said that the pandemic is so severe it has also affected the breeders of laying hens, which "ultimately means that the placement of breeding hens with our various suppliers will take much longer than anticipated".

Spar confirmed there is "an impact" on its egg supply chain, but that it's addressing this by working with existing suppliers to try and ensure a consistent supply.

It had also begun discussions with several Southern African countries to potentially import eggs.

"Our suppliers are acutely aware of the escalating spread of avian influenza within the South African poultry industry. As circumstances evolve and the availability of poultry products is inevitably impacted, our suppliers are committed to making every effort to maintain the supply of products to our existing customers and partners, based on historical supply patterns and their unwavering support."

Pick n Pay said it had eggs in store and is working very closely with suppliers to manage stock and assist affected stores.

Makro, which is held by Walmart-owned Massmart, said that while stock levels in Gauteng are lower than would typically be the case, it is currently meeting demand.

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