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Consumer-driven claim on cage-free eggs outdated

Shuanghui bacon
Foto cortesía de Nestlé

It may have earlier sounded good to say consumers prefer cage-free eggs, but how does it sound now?

August 31, 2016

During the first four months of 2016, there was a barrage of corporate announcements where the companies were revealing their plans to transition into selling and serving only cage-free eggs.

However, in early April when Walmart and Sam’s Club – which sells more than one quarter of the groceries purchased in the U.S. -- announced a move to selling only cage-free eggs, the animal rights groups responsible for the push to end the use of cage-raised eggs seemingly considered it a victory, and determined the entire egg industry would have to remove all of its cages.

And while the cage-free egg transition announcements have slowed down, they have not yet stopped.

Just days ago, On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina made an announcement that it was committing to switch to a 100 percent cage-free egg supply by the end of 2020.

A common cliché

One of the most commonly used reasons companies have given to date is that consumers are increasingly requesting eggs raised from cage-free operations.

On the Border is no exception to this trend. In a press release, On the Border President and CEO Ward Whitworth stated the decision was made “in response to consumers’ changing preferences.”

That reasoning may have been believable in the spring, but statements like that are quickly losing credibility.

Reports continue to surface about how grocers are struggling to sell cage-free eggs in their stores, as consumers are apparently opposed to pay more for them than they are for cage-produced eggs. So how could this really be in response to consumer preferences?

Will PR moves backfire?

We all want the companies that produce our food, as well as the grocery stores and restaurants that sell our food to be transparent. We all want to be able to trust those companies.

But is claiming that this is a decision based on consumer desires an honest statement? I’m going to give On the Border the benefit of the doubt on this one. However, at this late stage in the game and new egg consumption trend information available, it makes me wish the restaurant chain did more research and made the decision accordingly.

It seems a person doesn’t have to talk to too many other people in the egg supply chain to realize that consumers aren’t quite saying that they want to only eat cage-free eggs.

It may sound like a good public relations (PR) move to say we’re going to serve only cage-free eggs. However, those who buy eggs and products including eggs that don’t want to swallow the extra cost, may consider claims of responding to consumer demand to be poppycock. Then trust will be lost, which could ultimately be more of a PR challenge than any faced before transitioning the egg supply.

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