Wild Oats Says Set Our Chickens Free

Discussion
Jun 03, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Wild Oats Markets said the company is being true to its self and its customers. The company announced it would only sell eggs laid by hens that were cage free.

The United Egg Producers said Wild Oats is misleading the public about the animal-welfare aspect of this issue and, in the end, the retailer’s decision will cost its shoppers
more than $1 million a year to buy eggs at the chain.

According to a release from the United Egg Producers, “There are no science-based guidelines for cage free production, and many cage free hens are subject to more diseases, predators
and weather. Only eggs that carry the Animal Care Certified seal (www.animalcarecertified.com) are based on scientific
guidelines which were developed by the egg industry in conjunction with an independent scientific committee of animal welfare experts. That Animal Care Certified seal is the consumers’
only guarantee that the eggs were produced in proper conditions, which provide adequate space, food, water, air and cleanliness.”

The Denver Post reported, “The Better Business Bureau has ruled that the Animal Care Certified logo is misleading and purports a higher standard than actually exists.”

United Egg Producers vice president Gene Gregory said, “Cage free eggs are sold at twice the price of regular eggs and are much more profitable for retailers. Wild Oats’ decision
may be based more on profit motives than on concerns about hens.”

“Consumers who want to be free to make their own purchasing decisions about the kinds of eggs they prefer or who want more competitive prices may want to shop at other grocery
stores,” he added.

Wild Oats dismissed the Egg Producers’ claims. The company said its prices on eggs were not going to change as a result of this decision and that profit motive was not part of
this decision. The decision according to the retailer simply formalized existing policy.

Moderator’s Comment: Will either Wild Oats of the United Egg Producers come out with egg on their face as a result of the flap over the retailer’s decision
only to sell eggs from cage-free chickens?

George Anderson – Moderator

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9 Comments on "Wild Oats Says Set Our Chickens Free"


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Mark Burr
Guest
15 years 9 months ago

Cost more – sure. If you’re shopping Wild Oats, you are likely aware that everything costs more, but that’s not likely a concern for shopping there. Are there health concerns? Yes, likely for all the reasons mentioned both in the article and in the comments. Is that a risk to Wild Oats? You bet it is. Are they likely better at educating their customers? Sure they are and they do it well.

Is there really a concern about the cages? Hardly! This is purely a response to what they think their customers are concerned about – or at least say they are. But, to deny it’s not about profit, well, that’s simply something to laugh about or maybe, in this case, cackle. It’s all about profit – period.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
15 years 9 months ago
This is a tempest in the hen house. Wild Oats, God bless ’em, is trying to gain a marketing advantage by claiming they will sell only eggs from the best treated and safest chickens, cage-free hens. What a yoke! As the United Egg Producers correctly point out, such eggs may not even be as safe as eggs from well-monitored caged-in hens. So the two parties go into PR warfare over which is the better place for a hen to deposit her daily offering. (Okay, they do miss some days. Laying eggs can be a chore, don’t you know.) The public usually goes with whatever makes them feel the best and safest — and marketing claims can be very powerful. In the past, Rhode Island Reds were supposed to produced the best eggs because there weren’t white. It was just a shell game. There was a time when we at Kroger had 6 million hens laying eggs, 3 million each in Hope, Arkansas and at Egg City in California. Yes, they were caged, nutritionally fed, given… Read more »
Tom Zatina
Guest
Tom Zatina
15 years 9 months ago

My first question is to ask what group this is designed to benefit the most: The chickens…the Wild Oats customers…or Wild Oats itself? Sounds a little like good old fashioned positioning and marketing to me.

Karen Kingsley
Guest
Karen Kingsley
15 years 9 months ago

If one is looking for a vested interest in this argument it clearly belongs to the Egg Producers. Wild Oats’ food philosophy is consistent and clear. They also do not sell any snacks with trans fats. This approach is much of the reason behind their phenomenal success.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 9 months ago

Salmonella could be the determining factor. Cage-free chickens are much more exposed to it, and their eggs and shells (yes, shells!) are more likely to carry the disease. In fact, uncontrolled chickens are one of the best places for salmonella to incubate. Have you ever washed an egg before cracking it? If you’re a Wild Oats customer, you’d be wise to start doing so.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 9 months ago

The whole dialogue between Wild Oats and the Egg Producers is totally predictable – comes under the heading of “they would say that, wouldn’t they?” Both sides have commercial reasons for their decisions but as others have said, Wild Oats’ customers are more concerned with animal welfare than price. There are many potential problems with eggs coming from caged birds and even more potential problems for the chickens themselves. Free range birds are obviously subject to a different range of problems but as another old saying goes, you pays your money and you takes your chances. Choice is, after all, what it’s all about (for the customers, not the chickens) and although I can understand the Egg Producers wanting to fight their corner, they are being somewhat disingenuous to say the least (we don’t know how big the cages are but bigger than a piece of paper???!!! and just how big are the chickens in relation to that piece of paper?).

Lucius Boardwalk
Guest
Lucius Boardwalk
15 years 9 months ago

Just a day or two ago, we learned from this column about “demand-driven” information systems that promise to help retailers puzzle out what customers want.

Sometimes retailers don’t need a technological solution. They use a low-tech approach called “listening.” That’s apparently what Wild Oats managers are doing.

Yes, cage-free eggs cost more. Some customers are willing to pay that premium if it means the chickens that lay the eggs aren’t crammed six to a cage with their beaks lopped off. Apparently, many of those customers shop at Wild Oats. Congratulations to Wild Oats for listening to them.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
15 years 9 months ago

The natural foods movement can certainly be confusing, as it is often mixed in with environmental concerns, animal rights concerns, etc. Many natural foods carry more risks than food from more manipulated sources, just as the Egg Board is pointing out here. But in this case, I think the demand is for food produced more “as nature intended” than biologically safer.

Both sides seem to have done what they needed to do: Wild Oats is meeting customer demand and differentiating itself in accordance with its marketing plan. The Egg board is fulfilling its role as advocate for its constituency, and countering any perception that there is a problem with regular eggs. I suspect that will be that and we’ll all get on with our lives.

Personally, I think the chickens could be kept on a leash and still be quite comfortable, as long as they have some shade and a little bowl of water….

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 9 months ago

The United Egg Producers is just being a crybaby because they will not be selling their eggs at Wild Oats. Wild Oats probably could care less about the condition the chickens are in when they lay their eggs. However, Wild Oats must set the stage in a way that makes their customers feel better about themselves. If this mean selling cage-free eggs, then that is what Wild Oats must do. The allegation that it will cost consumers more money is laughable. Who goes to Wild Oats because of price? I was at a store in Michigan run by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Because they are vegetarians, you couldn’t even buy a can of tuna there. I didn’t see the meat packers and fishermen crying foul.

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