Noble Foods is launching a national brand of eggs in the New Year that will be sold all over the UK and in all retailers.

The new brand will take a share of the free-range growth and allow Noble to distribute value better down the supply chain.

That was according to Peter Thornton, chief executive of Noble Foods, speaking at the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA), at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire.

The brand will sell at a 15% to 20% premium above standard free-range eggs and enable Noble Foods to create the margin needed to re-invest in advertising.

Reflecting on his time at Dairy Crest, he said: “One of the things I did with Cathedral City, in a decade, was to take a brand from a £10m turnover to £180m, to pay the best producer prices for milk and cheese in the UK and invest in industry- leading innovative packing.

“I don’t see why there are not these opportunities with eggs. There has to be an opportunity to drive a brand and I think Noble is in the best position overall to make that most likely to be a success.”

Mr Thornton added that the industry had been internally focused and looking backwards down the supply chain rather than looking at what consumers wanted.

Of in-store eggs, he said: “It is one of the dullest categories in the shop, with ‘poorly laid-out fixtures’.” And he didn’t think the sector was offering consumers what they wanted.

“It is a well-known fact that eggs are an important profit generator in store. It has all the margin of a fresh food category and none of the cost.”

He explained that eggs should be with the fresh foods rather than “stuck in the bakery section as an after-thought”.

Mr Thornton said there was a need to be clever when adding value. One of his big concerns for free range was that it would over- take cage eggs as the biggest volume sector in the market.

“To me it is every bit in danger of becoming a commodity as cage eggs did. You look at the promotions that have been in store for the last 12 to 18 months and discounters selling cheap free-range eggs.

“There is a risk, as it becomes the biggest sector, that it loses its value-added positioning, and this is one of the things I want to work on going forward.”

He said there was a need to find a way in the category to build brands and add value.

This would enable both packer and producers in the supply chain to all benefit, said Mr Thornton.