Heap of different chocolate Easter bunnies.Alamy

With the chocolate oranges and festive family tins still jostling for space on the supermarket shelves, the stores are already moving on to the next seasonal splurge - and stocking Easter eggs.

Social media is abuzz with photos of this decidedly unseasonal stock in shops, supermarkets and petrol stations. But what's going on?

On sale

@TiernanDouieb posted his picture of seasonal stock at Waitrose in Membury Service Station on the 28 December, @leigheden posted a picture of the Easter shelf at his local Asda on Boxing Day while @KerryMurdock spotted them on sale at Tesco on Christmas morning.

@TillyBear18 said: "Saw Mini Eggs in Asda today, EASTER IS COMING. Can't wait for April to buy my Halloween items in the supermarkets."

Tina_Freddie posted her picture of caramel eggs with the words: "OMG @waitrose you disappoint me easter eggs already #why #april20th". Waitrose actually responded to Tina_Freddie, saying: "Hi, I'm sorry you felt this to be too early and will pass on your comments for discussion at our next review meeting. Thanks."

Not surprised

What's striking about some of the posts is that while a few people seemed shocked, most of those revealing the Easter stock on display weren't surprised at all - they were expecting it.

This is partly because we have come to see supermarkets giving themselves as long as possible to benefit from a forthcoming festival. We reported at the end of August that tins of Christmas chocolates were making their way into stores four months early. Now it looks like the supermarkets are building in exactly the same lead-in to Easter.

When the Daily Mail approached the supermarkets concerned, they said that the main Easter displays would normally be in place in the middle of January, but that stock had been delivered, and those stores which had available space may choose to stock it early. They added that this is what happened every year. Marks & Spencer, meanwhile, said it would not launch its full range until March (Easter is on 20 April this year).

This reflects the approach taken over Christmas this year. While the odd tin was cropping up in August, by the middle of September we reported that Christmas was well and truly underway in stores.

Why?

There are several reasons why this would work for the supermarkets. The first is that by putting things out early they know we will buy more. There will be those who pick up novelty chocolate with their weekly shop just to try out something new. And there will be those who buy chocolate early, fall short on the willpower front, and then have to buy the chocolate a second time.

It also enables the stores to cut down on waste. By putting the stock out early they are more likely to be able to sell all of it before Easter and cut down on the stock they have to sell off at a huge discount or simply throw away. This was certainly the case last Easter, when a number of stores ran out of Easter chocolates entirely up to two days before the Easter weekend.

This time last year some of the supermarkets were claiming that by putting the goods out early on the shelves it helped people spread the cost of Easter. But somehow this rings less true for Easter than for Christmas. After-all, exactly how much do we need to spread the cost of a couple of Easter eggs? And how could it help to fork out for them while we are still reeling from the expense of Christmas?

But what do you think?