The risk of a national egg carton shortage and major disruption to egg supplies may have been averted as workers at Australia's biggest carton production plant have agreed to halt industrial action plans.
The European-owned carton maker Huhtamaki Australia's Melbourne plant makes about two thirds of the nation's egg carton and tray packaging products.
The powerful Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union has been threatening rolling stoppages next week at Huhtamaki's Preston factory, plus bans on quality checks and cleaning duties across the workplace, as part of its campaign for a four per cent pay rise each year for the next three years.
The CFMMEU began negotiating an enterprise agreement and its pay claim with the company in March, rejecting the company's counter offer of 2.6pc backdated to January.
Australia has about 277 big scale commercial egg producers responsible for the production of about 17 million eggs a day.
The danger of a potential carton shortage hit the industry by surprise this week.
Executive director of peak marketing and research and development body Australian Eggs, Rowan McMonies, said there had been no indication farms were running short of packaging products.
"Like many of these industrial relations disputes you can get some extreme messages emerging, but fortunately I think most producers would have adequate cartons on hand for the time being," he said
Industry sources noted other carton makers also were capable of increasing production, although on the other hand, freight delays had restricted the arrival of imported product from New Zealand and Asia since the coronavirus pandemic hit.
While no official dispute settlement or union membership vote on industrial action had occurred by Friday, when industrial action was due to start, a company spokesman for Huhtamaki indicated an agreement appeared likely.
Producer representative organisation Egg Farmers of Australia said it was keeping a close eye on events in Melbourne, but was not jumping to conclusions or stressed about threats of significant egg supply disruption.
Shopper demand soars
This year has actually seen extreme demand for carton-packed eggs in retail stores because of a big uptick in home consumption of eggs, particularly during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.
"Home cooking and the rise in the number of meals families were eating at home meant a lot of increased egg sales through supermarkets," said Egg Farmers chief executive officer Melinda Hashimoto.
Supermarket purchases between March and September jumped 13pc on the same period last year.
Industry surveys suggested 24pc of Australian households bought more eggs than normal in 2020.
However, while retailers ran exceptionally low on stocks in autumn and home shoppers and food manufacturing companies continued to buy a lot of eggs throughout the year, a crash in demand from big scale caters, restaurants, cafes and others in the food service sector means egg consumption may have flatlined for the first time in a decade.
Interestingly, the coronavirus pandemic has contributed to a boost in positive consumer sentiment about the egg industry, according to a CSIRO report released last month.
Trust in the sector had increased as COVID-19 made shoppers became more aware of the importance of food security in Australia.
About 63pc of Australians in 2020 said they believed the egg industry was acting responsibly and would "do what was right".
More than half (57.3pc) of the 5000 consumers surveyed said they trusted the industry to act in the best interests of society, with average levels of trust in the egg sector actually slightly higher than trust levels across rural industries overall.
Four out of five Australians also said having a safe, reliable supply of eggs was "comforting" during the pandemic.
For the third year running the survey found the main driver of consumer trust in the egg industry was its responsiveness to community concerns.
Egg consumption has grown 25pc in the past decade, up from 198 eggs per capita to 248.
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The story Carton shortage risk unlikely to leave shoppers scrambling for eggs first appeared on Farm Online.