While Walmart stores in the US have offered cage-free eggs since 2001, the retailer announced April 5 that its US stores and US Sam’s Clubs will transition to 100% cage-free eggs by 2025 as part of its larger mission announced last spring to improve the welfare of animals in its supply chain.
The declaration to move to cage-free eggs will help the retailer meet growing consumer demand for transparency into how food is grown and raised, and is a logical next step in its efforts to partner with suppliers that meet the “Five Freedoms” of animal welfare.
However, the announcement could threaten the company’s ability to deliver on affordability, if demand for cage-free eggs in the next 10 to 15 years outstrips supply and drives up costs, which an executive with the happy egg co. predicted late last year. He raised the concern in the wake of an “avalanche” of commitments to transition to cage-free eggs from companies including McDonald’s, Aramark, Sodexo, Starbucks, Nestle and more recently Ahold.
To help it balance these priorities, Walmart built into its US cage-free egg supply policy a little wiggle room by conditioning the goal to transition to a 100% cage-free egg supply chain as “subject to regulatory changes and based on available supply, affordability and customer demand.”
The potential reach of Walmart’s transition
Still, animal advocates are applauding Walmart’s announcement as progressive and influential.
“The past six months has seen many cage-free egg announcements, but Walmart’s is the most influential with regard to laying hen welfare,” and “as the largest retailer in the US, Walmart’s commitment will have firm ripple effects reaching far beyond our borders, particularly in the EU and Australia,” posits Leah Garces with Compassion in World Farming.
The Humane Society of the US also applauds Walmart's announcement as effectively ending the egg industry's use of "notoriously inhumane, cramped cages." It explained in an email to FoodNavigator-USA the sheer scale of Walmart's purchasing power is hugely influential.
“Since September, when McDonald’s announced its cage-free policy, we knew that we had turned the corner in the fight against battery cages. But today, that debate ends, and the trajectory is clear. The era of confining hens in cages in America’s food system is officially sunsetting,” Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS stated in a blog post.
The commitment to transition to cage-free eggs is also just one part Walmart’s cage-free egg policy. Other elements include requiring that 100% of shell eggs be certified as compliant with the United Egg Producers Animal Husbandry Guidelines or equivalent standard, which includes providing an enriched environment with nests, perches and litter, and at least 1 sq. foot of space per hen.
It also challenges its suppliers to use selective breeding, innovation and best management practices to improve the health and welfare of laying hens, including reducing painful procedures like beak trimming.
Otis Spunkmeyer expands commitment to better ingredients
The day before Walmart’s announcement, sweets brand Otis Spunkmeyer also committed to baking with cage-free eggs for all its products in retail and food service by 2023.
It will begin phasing in the cage-free eggs to make its new retail line of cookies, muffins and snack cakes in 2018, according to a company statement. The retail products are just hitting shelves this year, and will stand out from competing products by being made with “no funky stuff,” such as artificial flavors or colors, high fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated oils, according to the company.