Distributors struggle with egg glut prompted by earlier panic buying

Firms forced to dump surplus stock as sales drop from May

Egg distributors here are scrambling to figure out ways to deal with an oversupply prompted by panic buying in March and early April.

Mr Ma Chin Chew, chief executive of local egg farm N & N Agriculture, said it imported more eggs during the circuit breaker period, which kicked in on April 7, when demand spiked. The company is one of three hen-shell egg farms which accounted for 26 per cent of total consumption here last year.

"In March and April, when customers were grabbing eggs, supermarkets kept asking for more and distributors imported more.

"We thought this trend would continue in May, but when the circuit breaker was extended, it was difficult to predict that the market would change," said Mr Ma, whose company also had 500,000 egg-hatching hens on its 13ha farm in Lim Chu Kang.

When sales plunged 50 per cent from the second week of May, it was forced to sell one-sixth of its hens to the slaughterhouse. They were laying about 80,000 eggs a day.

Kim Hock Eggs Merchant had to discard 250,000 imported eggs last month when customers and supermarkets complained they had gone bad. The company's manager Bernard Ong said pre-circuit breaker, it sold each batch of eggs within two days of receiving them.

But when sales dropped last month, the supply, which came from two countries in South-east Asia, took two to three weeks to move. Although they were stored in chillers, they still went bad.

"On the outside, the eggs looked nice, but when customers cracked open the eggs, some of them were black. So, I can't say for sure what caused the eggs to spoil. The eggs could have gone bad when they were shipped, or could have gone bad when they were stored here,"said Mr Ong.

The only option was to discard the eggs. Mr Ong said each tray of 30 eggs now costs around $4, down from around $5 previously.

Farmers and distributors have also been cutting supply.

Since the end of last month, N & N Agriculture had cut its egg imports from Malaysia by 30 per cent, from 10 million eggs to seven million a month.

Green-Tech Egg Industries has also slashed its import of eggs by 30 per cent - in part because its reserve stock of eggs, which includes liquid pasteurised eggs and frozen eggs, has doubled compared with last year, said the company's managing director Ng Kong Guan.

The suppliers and merchants are unclear how their business will be impacted as Singapore entered phase two of its exit from the circuit breaker period from yesterday, with food and beverage outlets allowed to reopen their doors.

"It is too early to tell how the situation will change," said Ms Koh Chern Teng, farm manager of Seng Choon Farm.

Some are optimistic that the situation will stabilise as the economy further reopens. "Now we will try to sell the surplus eggs, and hopefully the market will slowly stabilise. This will be a short-term problem then," said Mr Ng.

Mr Ma said the oversupply of eggs will take time to resolve.

"But hopefully demand will increase and supply will stabilise by the end of the month.

"With Father's Day on Sunday, the demand for eggs may climb."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2020, with the headline Distributors struggle with egg glut prompted by earlier panic buying. Subscribe