Cage-free chickens on a farm
Consumers are demanding more cage-free eggs from hens not cooped up in industrial settings.

ROCKVILLE, MD. — More hens may not be quite as cooped up in the future. While about 90% of eggs sold through retail in the United States are from hens kept in industrial settings, that percentage may change as consumers seek products promoted as “natural,” “organic” and “humanely-raised,” all terms associated with the egg industry, according to the report “Egg Market Trends and Opportunities in the U.S.” from Packaged Facts.

“Not too many years ago organic and cage-free eggs were available almost exclusively from either farm stands, farmers markets or in specialty natural or health food stores,” said David Sprinkle, research director for Rockville-based Packaged Facts. “Today they are easily found in mainstream markets.”

The report pointed to McDonald’s Corp., Oak Brook, Ill., announcing on Sept. 9 that it will transition fully to cage-free eggs in its nearly 16,000 restaurants in the United States and Canada over the next 10 years. Packaged Facts also cited the success of the Happy Egg Co., based in the United Kingdom and a supplier of humanely-raised, free-range eggs. Since establishing a presence in the United States in October 2012, the company has expanded distribution to 6,500 stores, including Wal-Mart and Costco, from 500 stores.

McDonald's breakfast sandwiches with eggs
McDonald’s Corp. announced that it will transition fully to cage-free eggs over the next 10 years.

The Packaged Facts report said 30% of consumers seek products labeled as “natural” or “high protein.” Another 20% seek organic items or items high in omega-3 fatty acid content, which are two other labels increasingly associated with the egg industry. People between the ages of 18-24 and Asian-Americans are most likely to seek organic eggs.

More than 90% of U.S. households use eggs, a rate that has remained steady since 2011, according to the report.

The issue of cage-free eggs has made the news this year.

Cal-Maine Foods, Inc., Jackson, Miss., on April 9 announced it had entered into a production joint venture with Rose Acre Farms, Inc. The joint venture, called Red River Valley Egg Farm, L.L.C., will respond to increased customer demand for cage-free and other specialty eggs, said Dolph Baker, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Cal-Maine Foods.

Post Holdings, Inc., St. Louis, on Oct. 5 said it had completed its acquisition of Willamette Egg Farms, L.L.C., which produces shell eggs, specialty shell eggs such as cage-free and organic eggs, and value-added egg products.

Willamette Egg Farms cage-free eggs
Post Holdings, Inc. acquired Willamette Egg Farms, L.L.C., which produces shell eggs, specialty shell eggs such as cage-free and organic eggs, and value-added egg products.

“Willamette Egg will further increase our leadership as the country’s largest provider of cage-free egg products and contributes to additional geographic flock diversification,” said Rob Vitale, president and c.e.o. of Post.

Rembrandt Foods, Spirit Lake, Iowa, on Oct. 13 said cage-free production will become the company’s standard.

“Over the last five years Rembrandt has invested almost exclusively in cage-free egg production houses,” said Dave Rettig, president of Rembrandt Foods. “With the unprecedented number of top food companies announcing timelines to switch exclusively to cage-free eggs, we are uniquely positioned for the future in cage-free eggs and egg products.”

Rembrandt Foods supplies cage-free eggs to restaurant chains, food manufacturers, grocery stores and food service providers.

“We welcome the growing movement of major food companies switching exclusively to cage-free eggs,” said Jonathan Spurway, vice-president of marketing for Rembrandt Foods. “With a reasonable timeline, we can meet any demand, and we’re eager to move our clients into the cage-free future.”