It's out of the box: Pastured eggs could be the new favorite
- Sales of pastured eggs jumped 32% so far this year, according to Vital Farms, which cited data from market research firm IRI.
- According to Bloomberg, sales of other types of eggs are also rising in accordance with the amount of freedom the chickens have. Free-range egg sales increased 8.5%, cage-free eggs were up 3.9% and standard caged eggs rose 0.3%.
- John Brunnquell, president of Egg Innovations, the biggest pasture-raised and free-range producer with 1.2 million chickens, told Bloomberg that the trend indicates standard eggs will likely no longer be a major player because "cage-free is going to be a commodity egg."
Cage-free eggs are now a commodity and pasture-raised eggs — where the chickens spend more time outdoors scratching and pecking — are taking the market by storm, redefining what the new standard for chicken treatment could become.
As consumers demand better animal welfare, it's logical that as soon as one standard becomes the norm, consumers aim for the next tier. But a hefty price tag comes along with the improved treatment of animals. Producers told Bloomberg that most retailers currently offer free-range or pastured eggs, and those options continue to become available at more locations. Previously, pasture-raised eggs could fetch a jaw-dropping $12 a dozen at the grocery store, but now as demand increases, prices have dropped to as low as $5 a dozen.
Even with the reduction in price, this is still out of the price range of many consumers. The lowered cost is still significantly more expensive than standard eggs. But the impact of this demand on the prices of cage-free eggs is promising.
As cage-free becomes a commodity, it also becomes the benchmark to which all other eggs are compared. Pasture-raised eggs could follow the same trajectory as cage-free eggs, since they both have become more popular in recent years. Already, cage-free has become so accepted that the nation’s biggest egg producer, Cal-Maine Foods Inc., increased its cage-free capacity.
It is also being mandated in legislation. California voters passed Proposition 12 during the midterm elections, which mandates that no farm can sell veal, eggs or pork in California without meeting new confinement space requirements.
However, even with overwhelming consumer support behind better treatment for chickens, it is not always easy to maintain high standards. In 2010, Massachusetts passed similar legislation to California, which mandates that all pork, veal and eggs farmed and sold comes from animals not confined to small areas.
The initiative has brought backlash. Massachusetts faces pending litigation from 13 states. Plaintiffs say forcing out-of-state farmers to comply with one state's restrictive law violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the authority to regulate commerce between states.
Although pastured eggs have demonstrated 32% growth this year, there is a while to go before it is apparent how much demand there really is for the product. Out of the 330 million hens producing for the U.S. egg industry, fewer than 10 million go outside. Looking at the jump in the numbers so far this year, perhaps pasture-raised eggs will continue to become more widespread, which could drive prices down even more and appeal to different consumers.