News and analysis on the global poultry
and animal feed industries.
on December 4, 2010

Conventional eggs purchased 40-to-1 over cage-free

Checker scanner data shows huge consumer preference margin but results lack farmers’ market purchases.

Consumers overwhelmingly select conventional eggs over cage-free eggs by a 40-to-1 margin, according to a survey conducted by the United Egg Producers. The survey derived from checkout scanner data obtained from Information Resources Inc. corresponds closely with the presumed proportion of caged and non-confined flocks in the U.S.

It was further noted that organic eggs only represent 1% of the total of shell eggs purchased. This result may in fact be biased by the fact that supermarket checkout data was used for the survey. The IRI would not have had access to sales at farmers’ markets where virtually all eggs are organic or at best cage-free. It is unknown whether the survey involving 34,000 grocery, drug and mass merchandise stores across the U.S. was truly representative of consumers.

The data documented a one year decline of 1.7% in sales of organic and free-ranged eggs, almost balanced by a 1.3% increase in cage-free eggs. This suggests a 23% shift from organic to cage-free, possibly in response to price sensitivity in a recessionary environment. The report noted that the differences were too small to be statistically significant.

Wording sways survey results

The report states that one third of Americans would opt for enriched colony housing to produce eggs for their state if they had a choice, according to a survey conducted by the Bantam Independent Research Agency. Data of this type can be discounted since the validity of responses is limited by both the demographic surveyed and the way in which the questions are worded. Simplistic surveys are often designed only to provide the results required by a sponsor.

The only way of truly evaluating consumer preference is to conduct a conjoint analysis in which respondents are provided with a number of alternative purchase decisions incorporating attributes such as housing system, price, quality and safety. The sensitivity of the survey can be enhanced if two consecutive analyses are conducted before and after appropriate education involving either a written description of housing, with a definition of terms or a short video. Conjoint analysis is more expensive than simple store-front questionnaires but provides valuable information concerning the motivation of consumers which can guide investment decisions by the industry.

Price holds importance

The fact that the results reported by the UEP makes note of the fact that U.S. consumers paid $1.63 per dozen during 2009 compared to a range of $4.90 to $5.81 in EU nations suggest that price is extremely important. It is not valid however to simply compare the price of eggs in the U.S. with other nations since average earnings are markedly different in nations which are contrasted.

The more valid comparison would be the proportion of food expenditure on eggs, adjusted for per capita consumption.

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