Study Questions the Viability of Cage-Free Eggs

Feb. 22, 2023
Research from academia, egg producers and FMI examines lack of consumer demand, high costs.

A study on cage-free egg finds challenges related to costs and construction on the production side and a lack of consumer demand, especially if a premium is charged. If conventional eggs are removed from the market, the share of consumers choosing not to buy eggs will increase by 20%.

Those are among the results of a study, released today, conducted in 2022 by a team of researchers from Michigan State University, with collaboration from Kansas State University and Purdue University, and funded by the FMI Foundation, United Egg Producers and United Egg Assn.

Among the consumer-related insights of the research:

  • 56% of consumers are unaware if their grocery store has made such a pledge, and only 19% believe their store has made a pledge.
  • There are segments of consumers willing to pay significant premiums for cage-free eggs, but the largest segment (55%) is primarily motivated by price and does not discriminate between cage and cage-free eggs.
  • If conventional eggs are removed from the market and prices remain unchanged, the share of consumers choosing not to buy eggs will increase by 20%.
  • Consumers prefer government subsidies to support cage-free transitions over mandates that require adoption of certain housing practices.
  • Consumers also prefer establishing minimum cage space requirements over the complete abolition of conventional egg production.

“While eggs are on most consumers’ minds, this research adds new information regarding the shopper’s willingness to pay for sustainability and animal welfare-related poultry practices and what they ultimately want their grocer to stock,” said David Fikes, executive director of FMI Foundation.

“This research confirms what egg producers have known – cage-free transitions are extremely expensive, take years to implement and must be done in active partnership with their retail customers," said Chad Gregory, president/CEO of United Egg Producers. “Further, the study sheds light on one of the greatest challenges – that grocery shoppers do not understand transition deadlines and largely are unwilling to pay the premiums necessary to make the transitions cost-effective for egg farmers and their retail customers.”

“Recently, inflation, supply chain issues, and avian flu outbreaks have led to a substantial increase in the price of eggs. But on the horizon is a series of legal mandates and private sector commitments to convert to 100% cage-free production by 2025. Adding these cage-free mandates and pledges to the mix could drive prices up even further. In our study, we look at this issue from both the consumer as well as producer perspective to understand how the market would shift in such a context,” said Vincenzina Caputo, associate professor at Michigan State University.

“Providing an economic assessment of market and producer impacts paints a clearer picture of the future market environment for producers, consumers and other industry players,” Caputo continued. "Likewise, it gives policymakers insights on how to react to these changes from a policy perspective, while also enriching the current debate on price inflation and cage-free mandates/pledges.”

About the Author

Dave Fusaro | Editor in Chief

Dave Fusaro has served as editor in chief of Food Processing magazine since 2003. Dave has 30 years experience in food & beverage industry journalism and has won several national ASBPE writing awards for his Food Processing stories. Dave has been interviewed on CNN, quoted in national newspapers and he authored a 200-page market research report on the milk industry. Formerly an award-winning newspaper reporter who specialized in business writing, he holds a BA in journalism from Marquette University. Prior to joining Food Processing, Dave was Editor-In-Chief of Dairy Foods and was Managing Editor of Prepared Foods.

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