Would US consumers purchase in-ovo sexed eggs?

Many U.S. egg producers question if the industry is ready to adopt the practice and if there is a market for it.

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Chinese Consumer Examining Eggs
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Male chick culling is the industry standard for the U.S., and millions of male layer chicks are culled annually.

Most U.S. consumers are unaware that the industry culls male chicks, or that in-ovo sexing technology exists. However, 73% of respondents to a survey conducted by Innovate Animal Ag, on learning of the practice, said that the industry should move away from culling and find an alternative.

Robert Yaman, Innovate Animal Ag Executive Director, believes that the survey results indicate there could be a market for in-ovo sexed eggs in the U.S., and that consumers would be willing to purchase eggs branded with a “no-kill” label, even with a price premium.

“We wanted to have data to help producers make the decision about adopting in-ovo sexing technology. Our data shows that there is a strong business case,” stated Yaman.

Survey results

The survey results show that 71% of respondents are willing to pay a premium for eggs produced using in-ovo sexing, including 55% who are willing to pay a premium of US$0.36 cents/dozen or more. However, because many egg buyers are value-driven, almost a third of the survey respondents said they would not pay a premium for eggs produced using in-ovo sexing technology.

“The price premium seen for cage-free eggs is around US$1.00 per dozen in the U.S. and 12-36 euro cents for in-ovo sexed eggs in Europe,” said Yaman. “We are already doing other welfare interventions in the egg industry and consumers are already paying those price premiums.”

As a result of the data collected, Yaman believes that consumer education about in-ovo sexing needs to be improved in the U.S. for the practice to be adopted. This is because eggs produced using in-ovo sexing technology may be more difficult to market compared to other specialty eggs because other claims, such as “cage free,” are better understood by consumers.

Where is the U.S. at?

Currently, in-ovo sexing technology is not used by the U.S. egg industry.

In March 2021, agricultural cooperative United Egg Producers (UEP), an association that represents about 90% of the country’s egg production, gave an update on male chick culling that explained how existing in-ovo sexing technology does not meet the U.S. egg industry’s current needs, but that the goal was achievable with time and research.

In the update, Chad Gregory, UEP President and CEO, stated: “Identifying gender in-ovo is scientifically complex and a technologically challenging issue, with millions of dollars already spent by stakeholders to develop a solution. We are aware that limited-scale methods have been adopted in France and Germany, and we are encouraged by the progress that has been made through the firm commitment of many researchers. However, regular reporting to egg industry leaders worldwide indicates that a method that meets the food safety, ethical standards and scalable solutions needed for the United States is not yet available.”

Will consumers actually pay?

In the U.S., almost all major retail and food service outlets have pledged to source a portion of their eggs, if not 100%, from cage-free hens by a specific date. Additionally, ten states have cage-free mandates in effect, or going into effect over the next couple of years.

However, in the grocery store, the majority of consumers are still purchasing conventional eggs over cage-free eggs with a price premium.

While survey participants may indicate that they would purchase one product on paper, it’s difficult to know if they actually would when comparing them to other products and prices during grocery shopping. Consumers will decide what the demand is with their wallets. As of now, when given a choice, most U.S. consumers still purchase caged eggs, and the majority of eggs sold in the U.S. come from hens housed in cages.

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