Sometimes government regulations and consumer demands converge, which can simultaneously create havoc and opportunity. This is what’s going on right now as American consumers are demanding more from restaurants in terms of healthier foods and some states are passing laws to protect animals.
As much of the media recently reported, McDonald’s is starting to phase out using eggs from hens confined in cages in favor of cage-free eggs. The New York Times reports Mcdonald’s uses 2 billion eggs a year, more than 4 percent of all the eggs produced in the U.S. (a staggering 43.6 billion).
This percentage is bound to increase as the chain starts offering breakfast all day in its restaurants in October (meeting another consumer demand restaurant owners should be paying attention to).
Although The Times says it could take McDonald’s as long as 10 years to go completely to cage-free eggs, this process could be sped up by legislation. Consumers and state legislatures are pressuring farmers to allow hens to move around instead of being confined in cages often the size of a file drawer.
The state of California already passed legislation requiring egg producers to give hens more space. This has led to egg shortages in some cases and a spike in prices in others. The Times quotes egg producers as saying it’s the retailers that are adding the “big markups to cage-free eggs.”
McDonald’s expects the price of cage-free eggs to come down as it and other restaurants buy more of the product. Several of the nation’s largest food service suppliers are also pledging to use only cage-free eggs, and Walmart has told its suppliers “it would show preference to those using cage-free hen housing.”
Other states are also trying to regulate how and where hens are housed. The Times says “consumer concerns about the way agricultural livestock and poultry are raised” is driving the switch, and many “restaurant chains have been scrambling to obtain antibiotic-free chicken, grass-fed beef and cage-free eggs.”
Paul Shapiro, the vice president for farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States, told The Times, “The McDonald’s announcement effectively ends any debate that there may have been over whether cages have a future in the industry.”
This switch to cage-free eggs means if you own a restaurant (or a small food store), you need to jump on the cage-free bandwagon. It’s hard to argue with consumers when it comes to the food they want to eat.
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