Understanding the changing market for eggs, both globally and locally, is fundamental to developing a successful breeding programme, according to Novogen general manager Mickael Le Helloco.

The world market for eggs has grown by a steady 2-3% over the past three decades, reaching almost 65m tonnes last year, driven by the addition of 220,000 mouths to feed each day, he told a recent briefing in Nantes.

Asia has led this expansion, with a 20% increase in egg consumption since 2000. The Chinese are now eating 260 eggs per person a year, on a par with France, said Mr Le Helloco.

There has also been a major shift from white eggs to brown eggs, and also the emergence of a small market in so-called “tinted” eggs.

Brown eggs now account for 50% of world demand, primarily due to consumer preference in China and Europe, whereas 20 years ago, white eggs had an 85% market share.

There has also been a shift from cage egg to alternative housing systems, especially in Germany, the UK and Holland. “Today more than 150m layers (in Europe) are not in cages. For the development of our breeding programme, we have to consider this type of development,” said Mr Le Helloco.

With this in mind, Novogen, which is part of French company Groupe Grimaud, has developed three distinct lines for brown, white and tinted markets.

Mr Le Helloco said that Groupe Grimaud – which has a long history in duck and rabbit genetics – has been keen to get into the layer business to capitalise on the growing market and bring diversity to the sector.

“If we analyse the evolution of layer breeding activity over the last 40 years we have not seen a new company before Novogen,” he said.

Growing market share depends on having the right product and the company has focused on developing a bird that combines good persistency, longevity and the flexibility to thrive in different production systems.

Egg shell colour and strength also performed well, according to trial results.

These traits have helped the breed establish a significant market share in just three years. Mr le Helloco estimates that it has 6% of the layer market globally, almost 10% of the French market and is predicted to achieve a 15% EU market share by the end of 2012.

“Breeding is a long-term process so we need to be aware of market demands and market evolution,” said R&D manager Thierry Burlot. “Production is local for local consumption. That’s why it’s very important for us to develop layers which are able to produce in different kinds of production systems in different areas in the world.”

Production systems are also evolving, with more enriched cages, barn, free range and organic – not just in Europe, but elsewhere – and genetic selection should account for this.

“We select the bird under the particular condition in which we want them to perform. It’s not just the genetic potential, but it’s more the adaptation of the bird in specific environments.”

Groupe Grimaud facts

•Started in 1968 as duck breeders

•Now second largest multi-species breeding company in the world

•Brands include Hubbard (broilers), Novogen (layers) and Grimaud Freres (ducks/guinea fowl)

•Turnover of E220m, 75% from the international market

•1,600 employees of 30 different nationalities