SHOPPERS are spending more on specialty eggs, but new research reveals that consumers do not really know what they are buying.
A recently released national survey conducted by QuickTake.com revealed that consumers are confusing the terms "free-range," "cage-free" and "pasture-raised" on egg carton labels.
The online poll surveyed 670 Americans 21-54 years of age about egg labels and egg purchasing habits and found that 61%, mainly ages 18-34, indicated that they have purchased specialty eggs or cartons of eggs containing labels such as free-range, vegetarian, organic and humanely raised. In addition, 45% bought more specialty eggs in the past three years.
Although the participants said they were willing to pay more for specialty eggs, nearly 60% would pay $2-4 per carton, while only 8% would shell out $6, and even fewer — 1.66% — would pay more than $8 (Figure).
When asked about the individual specialty terms used on egg cartons, more than three-quarters polled had heard of free-range, cage-free and pasteurized labels, while slightly less than half recognized pasture-raised labels.
Still, freshness, price and taste, respectively, ranked as the three most important factors driving egg purchases, but food safety and nutritional value followed closely. Interestingly, 53.65% of respondents were concerned with animal welfare, and 43.47% indicated that local production was essential when selecting eggs in the refrigerator section.
For those grocery shoppers who examine words on egg cartons, 50% look for free-range, 47.66% seek cage-free and 47% hunt for organic. Less than one in four sought out a pasture-raised label.
When ranking specialty eggs by quality, free-range was rated as the best quality, while pasteurized was categorized as the lowest quality.
Similarly, 31% of survey participants viewed eggs labeled free-range as representing the best welfare standards, but 30% were unsure altogether.
Poll participants were asked to define specialty egg labels to assess consumers' understanding of the terms.
The survey results found that, according to their own explanations, consumers want the benefits of pasture-raised eggs but are mistakenly buying free-range and cage-free labeled eggs instead due to a lack of understanding about the different methods by which eggs are produced, Adele Douglass, executive director of Humane Farm Animal Care, noted.
Douglass said consumers are willing to pay more for specialty eggs but are not purchasing the eggs they specifically desire due to confusion over production methods.
Yet, not all labels on egg cartons are unclear to grocery shoppers. A majority of those surveyed realize that "organic" does not mean that the eggs were laid by hens living outdoors.
Moreover, 78% understand that "pasteurized" means that the eggs have been treated with heat to destroy bacteria and viruses.
Finally, 58% knew that egg shell color does not signify a healthier egg.
Currently, only the term "organic" is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and there are no government standards for other egg labels.