According to British free range egg producers, too many food manufacturers and processors are failing to notice the growing number of ‘caring consumers ‘ who demand quality, welfare-friendly ingredients, such as free range eggs, in food products – and are prepared to pay more to get them.

An NOP survey, commissioned by British free range egg producers reveals that more than half of British shoppers (56 per cent) usually buy free range eggs. However, recent estimates suggest that just two per cent of the eggs used by the food industry are free range, with most manufacturers and processors sourcing from the 25 million hens currently kept in battery cages in the UK, or are eggs produced more cheaply abroad from systems using lower welfare standards.

The NOP survey also reveals that, although there is currently no requirement for food packaging to state the source of the eggs used, a substantial 55 per cent of consumers would like to see such labelling introduced.

Commenting on the research, Richard Kempsey, spokesman for British free range egg producers, said: “The results seem to suggest that a major sector of the food industry is missing out on the opportunity to respond to the growing trend for high quality, high-welfare, naturally produced foods like free range eggs.

“In 1994 only 11 per cent of eggs produced in the UK were free range, but current figures from Freedom Food show this has risen to 21 per cent. It appears from our own independent research that most decisions on egg sourcing are down to price, yet the cost of using free range across all food industry sectors can work out at a fraction of a penny difference, and could represent a valuable point of difference on premium products.”

Already setting a good example are Dalepack Foods, who use only free range in their frozen and chilled ranges. Another company that has seen the benefits is the Linda McCartney range of frozen vegetarian meals, which is now part of Heinz.

Encouraging news for those who might follow suit is that 48 per cent of respondents in the NOP survey said they would be prepared to pay a little more for products which use free range eggs.

“British free range egg producers are now issuing a wake up call. Consumers are becoming increasingly selective about the origin and traceability of their food and also want the reassurance of good welfare standards,” added Kempsey. “We believe this is an issue which the food industry cannot afford to ignore. Our own research shows encouraging signs with some well known manufacturers and processors capable of committing to free range use – if they can do it, why can’t others?”

Chief executive of the RSPCA’s Freedom Food, Mike Sharpe concluded: “Welfare is the primary reason why consumers choose free range eggs and four million are consumed every day. British free range egg producers have, in many respects, led the way in terms of welfare and a large number of the 859 British free range egg producers are also part of our Freedom Food farm animal welfare scheme. There is no excuse either for the manufacturers who use liquid egg as this too is available under the Freedom Food accredited scheme.”

By Stephen Blake
Editor of Food Industry News