US – McDonald’s has responded to customer concerns over animal welfare with an announcement yesterday that it will transition to only using cage-free eggs in the US and Canada over the next ten years.
On an annual basis, McDonald's USA purchases approximately two billion eggs and McDonald's Canada purchases 120 million eggs to serve on its breakfast menus, which includes its popular breakfast sandwiches. Breakfast items are expected to be served all day at McDonald’s in future, requiring an even larger supply of eggs.
The announcement follows similar commitments by other food service providers in the US, such as Sodexo, Aramark and Compass Group and McDonald’s competitor Burger King.
Multi-national consumer goods company Unilever already sources 41 per cent of its eggs from cage-free producers in the US and says it is on target to match its goal of 100 per cent cage-free eggs already achieved in its Western European markets. A number of other US retailers, food processors and restaurant chains, like General Mills, Dunkin Donuts and Walmart, are also following suit.
As the demand for eggs and animal protein continues to rise, US consumers are also becoming increasingly concerned about animal welfare. According to the annual US Grocery Shopper Trends published by the Food Marketing Institute, consumers’ concern for this issue grew from 17 per cent to 21 per cent in the last year, and is now at a level where companies can no longer ignore it.
"Our customers are increasingly interested in knowing more about their food and where it comes from," said McDonald's USA President Mike Andres. "Our decision to source only cage-free eggs reinforces the focus we place on food quality and our menu to meet and exceed our customers' expectations."
The move was applauded by animal welfare organisations Compassion in World Farming and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
With less than 10 per cent of current US egg production being cage-free, commitments like these have the power to influence the practices of US egg producers.
Leah Garces, US Director for Compassion in World Farming, said: “McDonald’s is a market leader, and today they have also shown they are stepping up to be leaders in animal welfare. We have no doubt their announcement will create a ripple effect in the entire market. This signals the end of the cage age for laying hens in the US.”
Effective planning ensures a smooth transition
Oistein Thorsen of the Food Animal Initiative (FAI), welcomed these pledges but encourages firms to do the necessary strategic planning work to ensure a smooth, efficient transition to cage free systems that optimise long term positive results in hen health, welfare, productivity, and profitability.
Through years of careful measurement of hen health and welfare in different cage free systems around the world, FAI has built an expertise to help farmers continually deliver on these goals.
“At FAI, we’ve spent the last decade helping major food brands meet shifting consumer preferences and new industry regulations for egg and meat production in the UK and Europe. Now we want to take what we've learnt to help US firms hit the ground running by putting in place cage free systems that are good for both the hens in the company's care and for the company's bottom line.”
Uncertainty of what new system will replace current egg production methods can significantly hinder change and result in systems that fail to live up to potential.
According to Mr Thorsen, learning from global best practices while tailoring the new system design to a company’s particular geography, cost structure, supplier base and customer expectations can optimise the outcomes of the transition.
The FAI team has already helped major industry brands make this transition globally: “In the UK we helped McDonalds set a new industry standard by ensuring all their eggs came from tree-covered, enriched free-range systems, a production model which now encompasses 44 per cent of the UK shell eggs market.
"In Brazil we are cage-free production pioneers modelling a replicable indoor barn system that combines high and consistent egg production with lower levels of disease and mortality and improved bird behaviour and welfare scores."
While changing consumer demand help inspire companies to pledge change, it is practical transition plans that turn a pledge into meaningful action.
The current market trend is clear, and food companies, farmers and suppliers willing to make the required changes stand to reap the greatest long term market reward.
Additional reporting by Taylor Gillespie