Price, not welfare, governs egg buying decisions

Ontario eggsAbout two-thirds of Canadian egg buyers have never bought eggs produced in cage-free facilities.

They say they could be motivated to change their buying habits – but price will be the key factor and not hen welfare.

That’s according to a study by NPD Group looking at consumer attitudes and demands for cage-free eggs, conducted last year for the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). NPD surveyed over 2,100 consumers in Canada and just over 3,000 in the United States last fall using its online consumer panel.

The survey found that 63 per cent of egg buyers only buy conventional eggs, but of those consumers, 67 per cent would buy cage-free eggs if they were less expensive.

Only 34 per cent would change their buying habits if they had a better understanding of egg production methods and 32 per cent would if they were aware of any potential human health benefits from cage-free egg production.

The key factors influencing the egg purchasing decisions of survey respondents include trustworthiness of the store (62 per cent) and the egg brand (50 per cent), better taste (57 per cent) and lower food safety risk (52 per cent).

Hens having access to the outdoors was important to only 30 per cent of respondents, and 29 per cent mentioned hens not being in cages.

U.S. food economist Dr. Jayson Lusk of Oklahoma State University recently released a trend report on egg buying practices based on analysis of these survey results, as well as his own research in the field of consumer food purchasing behaviour.

In his report, Lusk says consumers don’t know much about hen housing conditions and their presumptions are incorrect and overly optimistic.

Based on his analysis of consumer purchases, he predicts that increased consumer knowledge is likely to lead to significant changes in the types of eggs purchased.

“My analysis was actually based on retail scanner data showing what people are actually buying and the trend is toward more organic and cage free,” explained Dr. Lusk in an email.  “Moreover, I study scanner data in California before and after the Prop-2 vote, and the results reveal a clear increase in market share toward cage-free and organic eggs as ads by pro and ant i-Prop 2 groups appeared. This suggests to me that more information is likely to increase demand for organic and cage free.”

Proposition -2 was a California initiative successfully passed on the ballot in 2008 banning conventional housing for laying hens, veal calves and pregnant sows.

Both sides on the Prop-2 debate were involved in extensive advertising during the campaign, thereby raising consumer awareness of hen housing.

Using retail scan data – which shows what consumers actually bought not just what they say they did -from Oakland and San Francisco before and after the vote, Lusk has developed various demand models to estimate potential demand for cage-free eggs.

According to his models, a 10 per cent reduction in the price of cage-free eggs would increase market share by 19.6 per cent. An increase from 10 to 25 per cent in the number of consumers knowledgeable about hen housing conditions would increase the market share of cage-free eggs by 20.3 per cent.

Survey respondents were not asked from whom they would like to receive information about egg production or who they would consider to be trustworthy on the issue.

Similar consumer attitude research completed in Canada for Farm & Food Care by Ipsos Reid, however, has shown Canadians rank farmers on par with friends and family as their most trusted sources of information.

This was followed by doctors, nurses and medical professionals, grocery stores and food retailers.

According to Egg Farmers of Ontario, over 108 million conventional eggs and approximately 1.46 million free range eggs are sold in Ontario annually, with an average retail price of $3.03 and $4.29 per dozen respectively.

This article was first written for and published in Ontario Farmer, May 28 2013 edition.

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