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Cage-free ripple begins in grocery sector

Companies announce timelines but specify that goals are subject to available supply.

For the most part, the grocery sector has remained silent, even as restaurant after restaurant has climbed on the cage-free bandwagon over the past several months. However, this appears to be changing.

McDonald’s set off a domino effect within the restaurant industry last fall that is still going today as companies continue to announce timelines for moving to 100% cage-free eggs. To date, about 70 companies representing the restaurant, retail, foodservice, egg production and hospitality sectors have announced some sort of commitment to cage-free eggs.

United Egg Producers president Chad Gregory recently told Feedstuffs that McDonald’s was a “game changer” on the restaurant side of the business but added, “If a major grocery store chain makes an announcement, that will potentially cause a major ripple effect on that side of it.”

Ahold USA, one the nation’s top grocery companies, announced last week that its companies' private-label shell eggs will be 100% cage-free by 2022, and a new announcement this week by Albertsons Companies likely signals that the grocery sector is jumping on the bandwagon.

In its announcement, Ahold said its USA retail divisions – Stop & Shop, Giant Food of Landover, Giant Food Stores of Carlisle, Martin's and online grocer Peapod – now offer cage-free, free-range, organic and traditional egg varieties for its customers. Approximately 80% of all eggs sold among Ahold USA companies are "Own Brands," or private label.

Stop & Shop issued a second statement the same day clarifying its cage-free egg stance, saying that achieving the goal to transition by 2020 will be “based on available supply and market conditions,” which is a smart move on its part as Gregory also recently told Feedstuffs that it will be nearly impossible for the four to six equipment dealers that make cage-free equipment to meet the timelines being set by all of the companies. (See March 7 Feedstuffs print edition for “The cage-free egg dilemma: Animal welfare, economics.”)

However, Stop & Shop said it believes the announcement is the best way to persuade the egg industry to quickly start making the significant investments needed to go cage-free.

“As the first mainstream grocery retailer, we are proud to lead the industry in going to cage-free and hope with our announcement that the entire grocery industry will go there with us,” it added.

Now, Albertsons Companies, the nation’s second-largest supermarket chain, has announced that it will be working with its suppliers toward a goal of sourcing only cage-free eggs for all its stores and affiliate locations — including Safeway, Vons, Pavilions, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s, Acme, Tom Thumb, Randalls, United Supermarkets, Star Market and Carrs — by 2025, “based on available supply.”

The company said it is making the move not only as part of its ongoing commitment to animal welfare but also in response to customer buying habits.

“Consumers have responded positively to the expanded choices in the egg aisle,” the company said, adding that it has worked for several years to significantly expand the varieties of eggs it offers, including organic, free-range and cage-free eggs.

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