The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development is looking far and wide for table eggs it can import to ease the country’s egg shortage, it confirmed on Thursday.
According to spokesperson Reggie Ngcobo, the government is looking to buy eggs “anywhere in the world where there are eggs” as part of a short-term solution to the country’s already reported shortage of eggs on retail shelves.
Ngcobo listed the SADC region, Africa, Europe, and South America as some of the markets the state is considering for help.
South Africa already has an import relationship with countries such as Brazil, the US and Argentina. These markets supply a significant portion of bone-in chicken imports to the local market.
Media reports this week revealed that the department is looking for ways to fast-track import permits for the industry, creating an avenue to assist an industry battered by different strains of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus.
“We are currently importing chicken meat from Europe and Brazil. So importing is happening,” Ngcobo said.
“As soon as importers apply for permits, permits will be issued in [a] short space of time and without compromising any legislation. They will import.”
The local poultry industry is battling the toughest bird flu outbreak since the virus first hit the country’s shores in 2017. In a previous interview with Moneyweb, Izaak Breitenbach of the South African Poultry Association placed this year’s slaughtered bird figure at over seven million, with the virus dealing a more vicious attack in the country’s densely populated inland region.
The department did not clarify just how large the import volumes of eggs would have to be to plug the supply gap in the market. Instead, Ngcobo told Moneyweb that the volumes will be dictated by demand in the market.
“It’s not government that determines the volume, rather the industry being informed by the shortage in their stock,” he said.
However, in September, Breitenbach told Moneyweb the sector is looking to import some 11 million fertilised eggs to help reduce the impact of the shortfall on consumers.
Still serving breakfast
Despite consumers already reporting empty egg racks at some of the country’s major retailers, some restaurants remain confident their stock will be enough to ride the wave.
JSE-listed restaurant group Spur told Moneyweb that although there is some concern around the outbreak, its chain of restaurants is yet to feel the trickle-down impact of the crisis.
“We do not have a shortage of egg supply currently and have also secured additional cage-free eggs via our central supply,” Spur Corporation CEO Val Nichas told Moneyweb.
“Eggs have a shorter shelf life [25 days], so we are monitoring this daily. Spur Corporation has also secured additional stock of chicken via our central supplier ensuring that our restaurants are buying stock from a source that is traceable and reliable to ensure product quality.”
The group – which owns popular Spur Steak Ranch family restaurant chain and special dining spots The Hussar Grill and Casa Bella – also told Moneyweb the group doesn’t expect to see dramatic price changes in poultry-containing menu items as a result of the crisis.
Instead, she said: “Any changes on menu pricing will be as a result of product price inflation on several categories and not only eggs.”
With regards to how the egg shortage could impact other menu items such as baked goods, Nichas said her team is looking at possible recipe innovations.
“Across the brands in our group we have two recipes for our waffle mix: one with eggs and one without, so we are geared up to mitigate this,” she said.
Moneyweb reached out to other popular restaurateurs like JSE-listed group Famous Brands as well as unlisted player the Tashas Group to find out how the crisis will affect operations. Both declined to comment.
Famous Brands – the owner of popular dining spots Mugg & Bean and Wimpy – attributed its reluctance to comment to the shifting nature of the situation.
“Given the fluid nature of the situation, we don’t have any inputs to provide at this point,” it said in an emailed response.
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