Common themes running through several of the papers at the International Egg Commission's Spring Meeting in London were the need for egg producers to listen to consumers and to work with them to regain their trust. More than 220 delegates attended a record for this event.
Focus on consumers and carbon
Jonathan Banks of marketing analysts, A.C. Nielsen, reminded egg producers that they have three customers: the retailer, the shopper and the consumer. "The most successful businesses are those that put the consumer at the centre of their thinking every day," he said.
Increasing interest in climate change will significantly impact the ways in which business will be conducted in future.
If companies conduct a carbon audit, they will find ways of reducing their carbon emissions. "If you reduce your carbon emissions, you will reduce your energy costs and increase your profits," he added.
Managing change and customer service
"In the future, change will be the most important factor that businesses have to live with," Peter Hinssen of the London Business School told his audience.
He continued, "For business success, there is only one fundamental mechanism that will work and that is absolute customer service: absolute dedication to your contact with the customer."
"Content no longer rules. It is contact that is important. It is the way you connect with your audience and the way you dialogue with them that matters," he said.
Market research shows what is important to egg consumers
Australia's Egg Corporation Ltd has completed the industry's second national Usage & Attitudinal study and a full sensory market research project among consumers.
"We know what consumers want and how much more they are willing to pay for it," said James Kellaway. The research has objectively defined the ‘perfect egg' in the eyes of the consumer. With this information, egg producers can build product quality characteristics that are meaningful to consumers into their proprietary branded eggs.
"Be demand-driven, not production-focussed, be proud of the product you are producing, as long as it is meeting consumer requirements, and never compromise on price," he extolled.
Possible cage ban in California
Professor Joy Mench of the University of California, Davis, in the USA said that a ballot initiative, which would result in a laying cage ban, has been introduced by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in California. If passed when the presidential elections are held in November, she wondered whether the industry would see a domino effect, leading to the rapid transition to non-cage production. California is the fifth largest egg-producing state in the USA with around 21 million hens, mostly in cages.
Gaining control over AI
"Until the extensive circulation of the virus is limited in the domestic avian reservoir, avian influenza will continue to remain an issue for food security and a global threat for animal and human health," warned Dr Ilaria Capua of the OIE/Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) National Reference Laboratory, Italy.
"The crucial issue in resolving this situation is to limit the circulation of the virus in the animal reservoir, as this represents a never-ending source of virus. Although specific tools are available, the infrastructure and economic conditions in most of the affected areas are insufficient to react to the emergency," she added.
Common animal welfare standards
In the future, to enable consumers to make an informed choice and for egg producers to benefit from market opportunities, the industry should consider standardising animal welfare indicators, said Andrea Gavinelli from the European Commission. These should be transparent and easy to use on the farm to assess the welfare of the birds. He also suggested that there could be harmonised certification of animal welfare standards throughout the European Union (EU).
Mr Gavinelli went on to discuss what he described as a new ‘Fork to farm' welfare quality project to end in 2009, in which 40 million is being invested. The key is to link informed animal product consumption to animal husbandry practices on the farm, he explained.
Maintain freedom to operate through gaining trust
"There is an urgent need for farmers to build consumer confidence and trust by demonstrating that they are producing food consistent with consumer values and expectations," said Charlie Arnot, from the Centre for Food Integrity, USA.
There are terrific challenges and opportunities ahead, he added, but we need to maintain our social licence to feed the 2.7 billion more people around the world in 20 years time. "One of the most crucial things to your future success is the ability to protect and maintain your freedom to operate," he asserted, and a company's freedom to operate can be protected by building trust.
Importance of Corporate Social Responsibility
If egg processors in the European Union are to survive, management attitudes will need to be completely turned around to become consumer/outside-in focussed," said Dr Ton van Dijk from the Eggnovation Centre in the Netherlands.
"Social and political pressures are forcing the sector to use Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or sustainability as the starting point in mission statements. This is new and requires a complete turn-around in management behaviour from inside-out to outside-in thinking," he said.
The Dutch egg industry and government have together set up the Eggnovation Centre Holland to help the industry to become more CSR-focussed.
Quality tests to boost consumer confidence
Theo Verleun from DSM Food Specialities in the Netherlands described new methods of testing for antibiotics and the presence of salmonella that have proved to be fast, reliable, easy to perform, good tools to secure food safety, cost-efficient and accurate. He went on to introduce a second-generation tool for describing egg yolk colour based on total carotenoid content in eggs and egg products.