Innova: Free range eggs hitting the mainstream

The use of free range hen eggs as opposed to battery eggs is in the spotlight, on the back high profile moves from mayonnaise giant Unilever with its Hellmann’s brand.

Actual product launches containing free range eggs are still quite small in number, however. Innova Market Insights tracked 492 new products containing the specific words free range/cage free eggs on their products in 2009, up from 391 in 2008. This is a tiny number if you consider that a total of 16,370 products were tracked in 2009 containing egg.

Almost all of the free range products tracked in 2009 (428), were in the UK market, which is apparently leading this more animal friendly new product development space. There were 15 new launches tracked last year in the US with free range eggs, but this trend is likely to gather pace soon, on the back of one major announcement.

Hellmann’s, America’s leading mayonnaise brand, announced in February that its Light Mayonnaise recipe in North America is now featuring 100% certified cage-free eggs in the United States. Hellmann’s intends to change all its mayonnaise products to cage-free eggs over time. Hellmann’s Light Mayonnaise is the first consumer product of its stature and volume in the packaged foods industry to use 100% cage-free eggs which equates to approximately 3.5 million pounds of eggs. Eggs used in Hellmann’s Light Mayonnaise (and other recipes) will be American Humane Certified, a certification program administered by the American Humane Association (AHA), the leading certifier of cagefree eggs in the US.

In Europe, and particularly the UK, the trend is far more developed. Hellmann’s announced back in 2008 that it is exclusively using free range eggs in its entire range across the UK and Ireland. In addition, other Unilever dressings and mayonnaise brands such as Amora, Calvé, Maille and Ligressa have followed suit in 11 European countries.

Leading animal welfare organization Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) has recognized this decision which will involve sourcing 475 million free-range and barn eggs every year by awarding Hellmann’s two of its prestigious Good Egg awards. Unilever uses 650 million eggs per year in Europe in products like mayonnaise, dressing, ice cream and shampoo.

In April, UK retailer Morrisons announced that it has become the first top four retailer in the UK to switch to 100% British free-range on its own-label eggs. The introduction of 100% British free-range comes nine months earlier than Morrisons had previously forecast and will see millions of laying hens become free-range two years before the EU-wide ban on battery cages comes into force. The retailer, which currently sells more than 10 million own-label eggs every week, will offer four own-label ranges, all 100% British and free-range, providing even more customers with an ethical choice when purchasing eggs.

But it is not all good news for hens. It recently emerged in the US that McDonald’s Board of Directors is recommending shareholders to turn down a proposal to require five per cent of the company’s eggs to come from free range hens, following a proposal from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

The proposal states that in keeping with McDonald’s stated commitments to food safety, animal welfare and environmental issues, shareholders encourage the company to switch five per cent of the eggs it purchases for its US locations to cage-free eggs by January 2011.

According to the HSUS, US factory farms confine about 280 million hens in barren cages so small, they can’t even spread their wings. In the UK, 100 per cent of McDonald’s eggs are cage-free, while in Europe as a whole, McDonald’s has committed to exclusively use cage-free whole eggs. 

FOODStuff SA exclusive: Published in the Innova Newsletter, April 2010

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