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Cage-free farms? Consumers care little

55% of customers would only care about price; producers only care about revenue

In Europe is one of the new frontiers of healthy food that the EU, or rather Efsa, is putting forward as a flagship. It was just a few days ago that the European Food Safety Authority plans to avoid the practice of mutilation, food restriction, and the use of cages in order to improve the welfare of broiler chickens and laying hens on the farm. The same issue, overseas, seems to be giving rise to no great outcry, except for the losses it may generate in business.

In fact, a U.S. study analyzing producer and consumer perspectives on the transition to cage-free farming in the United States has produced a rather worrying result: Yankee consumers are indifferent to these issues. The research identifies the challenges of converting to cage-free farming that the U.S. egg industry faces related to cost, construction, lack of consumer demand, and consumer and producer perceptions of the transition.

Well, the research shows that consumers are focused on far more: 55 percent are motivated primarily by price and do not discriminate between caged and cage-free eggs in the grocery store. In addition, 56 percent of consumers do not know if their grocery store has made a commitment to cage-free farming, and only 19 percent believe they have made the commitment.

From the perspective of producers, the music does not change much. Or rather: producers, in fact, only care that revenues from cage-free farms are on average 8 percent higher than those from conventional systems. Period. Not least because they estimate that costs are higher, on average, by a range of 8% to 19%: this is mainly due to additional labor and capital costs. And although they believe that cage-free production will account for 51 percent of total U.S. egg production by January 2026. producers say they are more likely to switch to cage-free production only when cost-plus contracts are available and with higher levels of return on investment.

"This research confirms what egg producers knew: the transition to cage-free farming is extremely costly, takes years to implement, and must be done in active collaboration with retail customers -explains Chad Gregory, president and ceo of the United Egg Producers agricultural cooperative-. In addition, the study sheds light on one of the biggest challenges: the fact that food buyers do not understand transition timelines and are largely unwilling to pay the premiums necessary to make transitions cost-effective for egg farmers and their retail customers".

Despite everything, however, the fast food chain Dairy Queen has pledged to source 100 per cent cage-free eggs and egg-based ingredients in all shops worldwide by 2025. The chain has over 6,800 restaurants in 20 countries, including more than 1,100 shops in China, 500 in Thailand, 100 in Mexico, and nearly 100 in the Philippines.According to Dairy Queen's commitment, 67% of shell eggs, liquid eggs, and proprietary ingredients that contain eggs in the United States have been converted to cage-free products or have been reformulated to eliminate eggs as an ingredient. 

Returning to the study we discussed, it is important to note that the impact of the price of cage-free eggs on consumers at the restaurant is different than at the grocery shop: while consumers are likely to notice the higher price of a dozen cage-free eggs while shopping, they are less likely to feel the effects of buying a meal at a fast-food restaurant that used eggs or cage-free products as an ingredient.

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EFA News - European Food Agency