Foodservice companies too slow to push for cage-free eggs

UK retailers are eager to join a push for cage‐free eggs, but except for Sodexo, foodservice companies are too slow to follow suit. By Tracey Jones.

For an organisation like ours, which has been campaigning for over 50 years to rid farming of all forms of cages, the last five weeks have been incredibly exciting. In quick succession, cage‐free egg commitments were made in the UK by retailers Tesco, Aldi, Asda, Morrisons, Lidl and Iceland, as well as by the international foodservice firm Sodexo.

The speed with which these announcements were made demonstrates the power of market shift when forward‐thinking brands lead the way. These pledges in the UK follow a domino effect of similar announcements by leading supermarkets and other food companies in the US including McDonald’s, Walmart, Wendy’s, Starbucks and TGI Friday’s to name a very few.

There has undoubtedly been an awakening on animal welfare in the US, which has caused a ripple effect in the UK. The seismic shift under way across our country’s retail sector means there will be no option but for foodservice companies to follow suit – both the weight of consumer expectation and the nature of supply is shifting.

There are already some high‐profile companies leading the way: McDonald’s UK has been free‐range on both its whole and ingredient eggs for many years. It is justly proud of this achievement (as can be seen in this video, made when McDonald’s UK won the Best Marketing Award at our Good Farm Animal Welfare Awards ceremony this year).

Good Egg Award winners at this year’s ceremony included Pret A Manger UK, which already used free‐range whole eggs but was recognised this year for going free‐ range for egg ingredients, as well as Pret A Manger US, which committed to going cage‐free on ingredient

as well as whole eggs. Meanwhile, Greene King, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Mitchells & Butlers all committed to cage‐free whole eggs. There is undoubtedly a groundswell of support for cage‐free eggs among consumer‐facing brands, although there are many that need to do more.

The majority of non‐consumer‐facing foodservice companies have yet to make the shift. The shining exception to this rule is Sodexo, with its recent global cage‐free egg announcement. Sodexo is the first big foodservice company to make a global cage‐free commitment for both shell and liquid eggs, and we hope this marks the start of a domino effect across the sector, akin to the one we’ve recently seen in retail.

Sodexo’s move raises the question of groups such as Compass and Elior: What’s stopping you? Compass has already made a cage‐free pledge in the US, but its UK counterpart is yet to do so. Elior has made no cage‐free commitment to date. A cage is a cage in any jurisdiction, and we urge these businesses, and other foodservice companies, to commit to a worldwide halt on using caged eggs.

They might also consider that Camst – one of the largest foodservice companies in Italy – is committing to go cage‐free on its egg products and shell eggs by 2025. This is the first large‐scale Italian foodservice business to go cage‐free on both and so could well be the catalyst for change that is needed in Italy.

It is important for egg producers to find solutions to enable their buyers to meet these commitments, and to ensure their own businesses are able to thrive in a cage‐free world. While we believe a cage‐free era cannot come quickly enough, we also recognise the complexities involved in shifting supply chains, and ensuring high‐quality cage‐free systems take the place of the outmoded cage. We will continue to work with food businesses to help their egg suppliers find and implement production system changes that will offer the hens a good quality of life in rich and stimulating cage‐free environments.

It is a time of major change for the welfare of laying hens in the UK and across the world; the hope that a cage‐free day will dawn in modern egg production looks increasingly feasible. As more and more companies banish caged eggs from their shelves, those yet to make a pledge should ask thems”elves: are their businesses fit for a cage‐free future?

Tracey Jones is director of food business for Compassion in World Farming.

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