It is a good week for America’s hens, many of whom live out their lives in tiny battery cages unable to even flap their wings. Three large grocery store chains made announcements that they will switch to cage-free eggs.
Kroger, the largest grocery store chain in the country, announced it will source 100 percent cage-free eggs by 2025. In 2015, only 15 percent of the eggs it sold were cage-free. Kroger has over 3,400 grocery stores and convenience stores nationwide under two dozen banners, including Kroger, Harris Teeter and Ralph’s.
Albertsons, which has over 2,200 stores in 35 states and Washington, D.C. under different banners, including Albertsons, Safeway and Vons, will also go cage-free by 2025. Delhaize America is the third chain to make a similar announcement. Delhaize has over 1,200 stores on the East Coast and is part of Belgium-based Delhaize Group.
What is driving the move to cage-free eggs?
“In recent months, the movement to free hens from cages has reached its tipping point,” the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) said in a statement. And recently, Safeway, Costco, Target, CVS, Trader Joe’s and BJ’s Wholesale have made similar announcements. Almost 100 other retailers, restaurants, food manufacturers and food-service companies in the past year have committed to going cage-free.
What is driving the cage-free trend? A look at the press releases by each of the three large grocers that made announcements this week gives a glimpse:
- Albertsons’ press release states that it is “making the move not only as part of its ongoing commitment to animal welfare but also in response to customer buying habits.”
- Krogers’ press release states that as its “customer base has been moving to cage-free at an increasing rate, Kroger’s goal is to transition to a 100 percent cage-free egg supply chain by 2025.”
- Delhaize states that it “will continue to increase the number of cage-free shell options as quickly as possible based on available supply, customer demand and affordability.” And Delhaize told Triple Pundit that “customer preference is always an important factor in any of our decisions.”
Do you notice the word that is used in all three statements and Delhaize’s comments to Triple Pundit? The word is customer, and consumer pressure is a big driver of the move to cage-free eggs. “Every day, more and more consumers are showing that they do not support caging hens, and as a result, food companies are responding,” Aaron Ross, director of campaigns for the Humane League, told TriplePundit.
Recently, the Humane League led a campaign urging Kroger to go cage-free. A petition asked consumers to “tell Kroger to stop caging hens” and received over 30,000 signatures. In addition to the petition, the Humane League had a student initiative, a spoof video and a website devoted to the campaign.
The Humane League’s efforts are working. “Over the last year, the Humane League has won commitments from some of the largest food-purchasing companies in the world, in large part due to consumer support,” Ross told us.
Numerous studies have found that “consumers care deeply about animal welfare,” Josh Balk, director of food policy for HSUS, told TriplePundit. And companies are well aware of those studies. “With this in mind, there’s no way a grocery store wants to portray itself of being heartless toward animals,” he said. “And in this case, the cruel confinement of egg-laying hens in cages.
“Now, more than ever, consumers are concerned about animal welfare on factory farms, and the public strongly opposes cramming animals into cages so small they can barely move their limbs, walk around or engage in other natural behaviors,” Jaya Bhumitra, director of corporate outreach for Mercy for Animals, told 3p. “At a minimum, consumers demand that animals not be tortured in the process of meat, milk and egg production.”
“There is a growing recognition by North American food companies that animal welfare is important to consumers,” added Darren Vanstone, corporate engagement manager for North America at World Animal Protection. “Food companies risk doing damage to their brands if they ignore consumer expectations.”
Will battery cages in the U.S. go the way of tape cassettes and VCRs? Both Ross and Balk think so. Ross pointed out the significance of these latest commitments from Kroger and Albertsons. “When the two largest supermarket chains in the country make commitments to eliminate cages, it signals a future without cages,” he said. He added that the Humane League is “actively working with other major retailers and expect others to follow in the footsteps of Albertsons and Kroger.”
Balk said that by the end of this month the HSUS will “work with virtually all the top grocers to go 100 percent cage-free with a timeline.” He proclaims that “we’ve crossed the point of no return for the industry to abandon cages.”
Bhumitra pointed out that the numerous commitments to go cage-free “indicates that it’s only a matter of time before the archaic and cruel cages that severely confine hens are banned for good.” She adds that the announcements make it clear “that the days are numbered for egg factory farmers who pack birds in cages so small they can’t walk, fully spread their wings or engage in other natural behaviors.”
The end of battery cages will be great news for hens and for those who care about their welfare.
Image credit: Flickr/John Morgan