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Terrence O’Keefe, WATT’s content director, provides his perspective on everything from animal agriculture trends that impact our food chain to food-safety related issues affecting chicken and egg production. O’Keefe has covered the poultry industry as an editor for more than a decade and also brings his experience in plant management and poultry production to comment on today’s issues.
Cage-Free Laying Systems / Egg Production / Business & Markets

Does the ‘consumer’ really want cage-free eggs?

six white eggs in carton
Photo by Andrea Gantz

Egg producers need to learn how major egg purchasers evaluate consumer sentiment -- it isn’t just about point-of-purchase buying decisions.

October 18, 2016

Robert Langert, retired McDonald’s vice president of sustainability, told egg producers at the United Egg Producers’ Annual Board Meeting & Executive Conference in Miami Beach, Florida, on October 18, that McDonald’s cage-free purchase pledge was based on consumer, not activist, desires.


Former McDonald’s executive, Robert Langert, said: “Quality is redefined as feeling good about the food we eat.” | Terrence O'Keefe

He said the fast food giant shifted a few years ago from an operational focus to being customer driven, and adopting the cage-free purchase pledge fits into this focus on the customer.

“No one is closer to the consumer than McDonald’s,” he said.

Egg producers who questioned Langert didn’t agree with his assessment of what consumers want. These egg producers cited the fact that the vast majority of U.S. consumers pass up cage-free eggs in the retail case and purchase less expensive eggs produced by cage-housed hens. Cage-free egg production and sales in the U.S., including organic eggs, still represent only about 10 percent of the U.S. total.

Langert either wasn’t able or willing to explain the real methodology that a consumer brand company goes through in evaluating what consumers want, but it is obvious it involves a lot more than just looking at current point-of-purchase decisions. Langert cited three megatrends that he said are shaping purchase decisions by companies like McDonald’s. Consumers want to know where there food comes from, how it is processed, and what ingredients are in it. To meet these three consumer requirements, Langert said food producers and processors need to figure out how to be transparent. He said food and agriculture companies are generally bad at this now.

Make the consumer feel good about your brand

Consumers need to feel good about using your product if you want to build your brand.

“Quality is redefined as feeling good about the food we eat,” he said.

To protect their brand, companies like McDonald’s need to stay in front of consumer demands, not respond to them, according to Langert. He explained that making a switch from conventional to enriched cages wouldn’t gain McDonald’s “credit with consumers.” He said that only going to cage free would give the company credit with consumers.

Langert didn’t talk about how companies with consumer brands monitor all of the messaging and chatter about their products online. Based on my own research, I’ll offer what I have learned about the process used by consumer brand companies: Whether it is bloggers, media outlets or social media platforms, large consumer brand companies have to monitor and respond to consumer sentiment and messaging about their brands constantly. These companies are looking at what is trending and trying to anticipate what is next and deal with possible concerns before they become problems. Success as a consumer brand requires responding now to what the consumer will want in the future.