Why Do People Buy Free-Range Eggs?
Farmed animal welfare is a growing trend. Consequently, it offers substantial potential for big business. More and more producers are edging into the marketplace and trying to capitalize on the care that consumers have—or at least claim they have—for farmed animals. Celebrity chefs, best-selling authors, policy-makers, animal advocates, and retailers themselves are all playing a role in shifting consciousness around animal welfare. Retailers and brands have a disproportionate amount of sway in the process as they wield extensive advertising budgets enabling them to reach consumers in a way that others can’t. Now more than ever, ethical consumerism and “voting with your dollars” are all the rage. And one of the many products that people buy is “free-range” eggs.
The purpose of this study was to “attempt to unpack why people may be motivated to purchase products with animal welfare claims.” The authors also wanted to test whether those choices are directly related to animal welfare. The Australia-based authors note that, up until recently, there was no legally enforceable standard for labels such as “free-range” and “cage free.” But this is shifting.
Through a broad range of focus groups and interviews, the researchers found that eggs dominated the conversations about animal welfare and “humane farming.” But, when they dug into eggs as a particular subject of focus, they found that participants tended to associate free-range eggs with better quality and healthfulness. This is in-line with the idea that “what is better for the animal is better for me.” The participants mentioned these aspects “much more readily” than any concern for hen welfare. That being said, the participants showed “high levels of awareness of caged-egg production” compared to other production methods such as meat production methods. And they had a strongly held perception that “caged-egg production is ‘wrong,’ unnatural, and even disgusting.”
Overall, consumer awareness of and feelings toward the animal welfare implications of conventional production methods seemed less important to the participants than food quality. This presents animal advocates (at least in Australia) with the following two potential advocacy strategies. 1) Continue to focus on the animal welfare aspects of egg production (both conventional and free-range) and attempt to turn the tide on people’s attitudes. And 2) Advocates can incorporate people’s clear desire for high quality food into their own advocacy strategies.