On 20 July the Poultry Industry Programme visited Noble Foods’ packing centre at North Scarle, Lincolnshire.
As a free-range layer producer, this was a great opportunity to visit one of the largest egg packing centres in the UK. It was great to see the journey of the egg after it has left the farm, where it gets packaged ready to send to the retail outlets. While I have previously been lucky enough to visit other packing centres, none were on this scale.
Meeting the team
To start the day we had compulsory tea and biscuits, while chatting with Avril Ritchie (national performance manager) and Graham Atkinson (agricultural director).
Our visit started officially with Graham Atkinson giving us a history of the business to date, explaining how they had grown from the humble beginnings of William Dean selling eggs door-to-door, to the vertically-integrated business it is today. Currently, they pack a total of 29 million eggs a week, made up of their own production and contract producers. Graham spoke of some of their biggest challenges, many of which were familiar to us including, avian influenza, the 2025 cage-free commitments, the war in Ukraine, Brexit and deflation of the supermarket price of egg during the past ten years. He talked about expanding the business further in the future to add more value, along with increasing their renewable energy offering via Noble Green Energy.
The most interesting part of the day in my opinion was the tour of the packing operation. It is hard to articulate the number of eggs, robots, staff, and packaging all in one place.
The backbone of the Noble packing centre is the two Moba 530 case egg graders. These machines unstack pallets of delivered egg from farms and place them on a series of rollers. Through this process the eggs are quality checked for dirt, cracks, internal quality, disinfected with UV and sized by weight: extra-large, large, medium, and small.
The eggs are then packed into the packaging which everyone is familiar with seeing in the supermarkets. Noble Foods deals with a total of 450 variations in packaging and 18 different types of egg supplied from various producers and their own flocks.
Upon leaving the packhouse, the eggs are packaged into large cardboard boxes by a mixture of staff and automated machines ready to be palleted up for transport. This final process is fascinating to watch as all the different boxes are transported together on the elevators to a palletising room, where four palletisers pick out the boxes for each of the pallets they are stacking. The whole packing process is extremely fast and efficient.
After the important job of lunch, Jean-Paul Michalski (company farms director) spoke to the group about the different types of production systems that Noble Foods have, which include organic, free-range, barn and colony units, and their various pullet rearing systems. Noble Foods rears approximately 4.5m pullets a year for both their in-house production and to sell to other customers.
Learning about the industry
Jean-Paul explained the transition Noble Foods were completing by converting colony cage units to barn as per their commitment to cage-free production. He spoke about the challenges of repurposing the colony units and selecting the right equipment to re-equip the sheds ready for barn production. The group had plenty of questions about this repurposing and the challenges it presents, such as stocking and mucking out.
Jean-Paul finished with some of the wider industry challenges, such as beak tipping and the culling of male day-old chicks.
The day finished with Meghan Whippey (category controller), who told us about the different brands Noble Foods sells eggs under and their value to the business. Meghan covered inflationary pressures, with eggs on the supermarket shelves seeing 30% inflation, whereas groceries have seen 14.9% inflation of late.
With that underlying pressure still present in the market, the egg sector has seen some trading down, but ultimately eggs are still very affordable.
As a takeaway message Meghan gave us some interesting facts: most eggs sold are consumed for breakfast and when eggs are placed next to bread more sales are achieved.
I personally found the day at Noble Foods really interesting. It was great to see all the automation in the packing centre and to hear about their continued investment. Another egg-cellent PIP event – sorry, I couldn’t help it!