Cage-free eggs: they’re becoming a staple on restaurant menus and, increasingly, in the ingredient decks of a variety of grocery products. More than 200 retailers, restaurants and food manufacturers have committed to using only cage-free eggs, and most of them have promised to do so by 2025. Many others are following suit.
However, these commitments may have been made prematurely, and not because the practice of using cage-free eggs and responding to consumer demands isn’t a noble endeavor. Rather, it’s because some analysts suspect it simply may not be possible.
An Outlook on Cage-Free Egg Production
What will it take for the egg industry to meet the 2025 deadline for those who’ve committed to going cage-free? As it stands today, farmers will need another 200 million cage-free hens. And that doesn’t include the demand created by others who will inevitably join the movement during that time. To put that into perspective, there are currently approximately 280 million laying hens in the U.S. overall.
The Challenge for Egg Producers
The American Humane Society (AHS) reports that with less than 70 square inches of space on average (about the size of a sheet of paper), hens raised in cages are the most intensively confined animals in agribusiness. To qualify as a cage-free facility, farmers must provide hens with environments where they can roam free in an open area, usually a barn or poultry house, and sometimes outdoors.
The challenge lies in complying with these and other cage-free egg requirements. Farmers will need to learn entirely new practices and either renovate their barns to accommodate this new approach or build new ones at great expense. Additionally, cage-free environments require more labor. Eggs are dirtier and need more cleaning, and they need to be gathered more often throughout the day from throughout the facility. Rather than increase the size of poultry houses to comply, some in the industry have chosen to reduce their number of hens while increasing the number of employees to handle the extra labor.
This movement, while undeniably a positive step toward animal welfare, also comes with an obvious price tag. Pricing of eggs has seen volatility in recent months and years and, today, the average retail price for a dozen Grade A large eggs is approximately $1, while the cost of cage-free eggs is nearing $3, according to the USDA.
Will there be a shortage of cage-free eggs that will drive prices even higher? Common sense indicates that may be the case. No matter the outlook, companies will need to look for ways to mitigate the added expenses or resort to raising food prices to the dismay of cost-conscious consumers.
MORE THAN A FAD
Major restaurant brands are flocking to the cage-free movement, with McDonald’s, IHOP, Applebee’s, Burger King, Starbucks, Chipotle and many others switching to 100% cage-free eggs. Major retailers and grocery chains are also jumping on board, including Costco, Walmart, Target, Safeway, Kroger and more.
Food manufacturers don’t want to be left behind. Companies including Nestle, Kraft, General Mills, Unilever, Campbell Soup Co. and many others have committed to the practice as well. But at nearly three times the cost of conventional eggs, can manufacturers afford to go cage-free with their products?
COST SAVING ALTERNATIVES TO CAGE-FREE EGGS
While consumers will certainly be looking more closely at labels as this movement gains momentum, they’ll also be looking at prices. Fortunately, there’s a practical solution that solves both “goodwill” and cost issues that result from using cage-free eggs: functional whey protein.
Grande Bravo® functional whey proteins are used by many innovative food manufacturers to replace eggs in a variety of applications as a way to help reduce and stabilize food costs, improve shelf life, reduce fat and calories, and, in many cases, actually improve the texture of finished products. Some of the applications Grande Bravo is being used in include:
- Salad dressings and sandwich spreads
- Baked goods, like sponge cake and Danish
- Sauces, to replace eggs as a thickener
- And more
Because of Grande Bravo’s water-holding capabilities, its viscosity and gelation properties are similar to that of eggs, though formulations do need to be adjusted for the removal of eggs. One bakery replaced eggs in a cookie formulation with whey protein and was able to maintain the original formulation’s taste and texture, and stabilize raw material prices. In fact, you may want to view a quick recipe video showing how to make egg-free chocolate chip cookies.
With consumers increasingly joining the cage-free egg movement, food manufacturers can expect this to be a long-term, mainstream change in the way products are sourced and made. The sooner formulations are changed to reflect consumer preferences for cage-free eggs, the sooner manufacturers taking advantage of practical options will b able to differentiate themselves – without the added costs.
Want to talk about how you can replace or reduce costly cage-free eggs in your formulations? Our food scientists ar
e eager to help you take advantage of our innovative products as you look to satisfy consumer demands. Simply reach out. And be sure to check out the cost comparison calculator below to show what type of savings you could expect.