THE second of Australia's major supermarket chains has announced plans to take its egg supply cage free.
Woolworths announced last week that it would phase out the use of cages in its supply chain by 2018.
Rival chain Cole's announced similar plans earlier in the year, saying that 100% of its store-brand eggs are produced by birds housed in either "barn-laid" or free-range systems — a commitment involving more than 350,000 hens.
In both cases, the companies piggybacked their announcements with celebrity chef endorsements: Curtis Stone in the case of Cole's and Jamie Oliver as the new face of "Woolies," as the chain is known locally.
Australia's grocery sector is much more highly concentrated than in the U.S. or Great Britain. The two leading chains in Australia are widely presumed to control 80% of the market, although a more recent and thorough analysis contends that the two chains truly hold closer to a 60-70% market share due to the emergence of discount retailer Aldi.
By comparison, the largest player in the U.S. controls no more than 25% of the market, while the top four companies barely hold 55% of the trade.
Woolworths started to transition toward its current stance a few years ago with a 2009 move to label its eggs as caged, barn laid or free range. At that time, an estimated 70% of eggs sold in its stores were from traditional cage systems, but that figure fell to 50% this year.
"Woolworths' commitment will change the lives of millions of hens and shows just how effective consumer purchasing power can be," said Melina Tensen, senior scientific officer for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).
Tensen acknowledged that the move will likely increase egg prices for consumers but said it is more important to improve the welfare of the estimated 11 million laying hens in the country.
"Switching to cage free is a small price to pay when you consider the big difference it can make to the life of a hen," she said.
In addition to its egg plans, Woolworths also said it will move to RSPCA-approved or equivalent standards for all fresh chicken sold in its stores by the end of next year. Additionally, the chicken used in its "Own Brand" products will also be RSCPA approved or equivalent by the end of 2018.