From Cage-Free Eggs to More Natural Nacho Cheese – Food Companies Make Commitments for a Greater Sustainable Supply Chain

carton of eggs

Consumers are increasingly demanding products that are produced and sourced responsibly and are more willing to pay a higher price for such products. A variety of food companies are taking note of this trend, focusing on more environmentally-friendly, climate-conscious and anti-animal cruelty practices.

It’s a smart move for food companies to make, according to consumer research. For instance, a recent white paper written jointly by representatives from Deloitte and Technomic titled “Food Industry Logistics: Trends That Matter” stated consumers are expecting food companies to be “responsible environmental stewards.”

Consumers are also demanding more information about where and how their food products are sourced. “Consumers are increasingly concerned about the social and environmental impact and carbon footprint of growing and processing methods and animal treatment, contributing to rapid changes in demand patterns,” the paper’s authors wrote.

Below, we’ve rounded up some of the companies that recently have made pledges to create a more sustainable supply chain.

McDonalds

Earlier this week, the major fast food corporation announced it would begin shifting toward only using cage-free eggs, meaning eggs from chickens that live outside of a cage in a barn or aviary but generally spend little or no time outdoors. Note, this is different from “free-range” eggs, which are sourced from chickens who do have access to the outdoors. McDonald’s goal is to be 100% cage free in 10 years. While the effort is admirable and will likely please consumers who are concerned about animal rights, McDonald’s goal won’t be easy to achieve.

The New York Times reported less than 10% of all laying hens in the US are “cage free.” McDonald’s uses 2 billion eggs a year, or roughly 4% of the 43.46 billion eggs produced in the US in 2014. (Just think of all the Egg McMuffins made – one egg is used per breakfast sandwich.) Add the recent outbreak of the avian flu, which has killed millions of laying hens so far this year, causing egg production to fall 9% and hiking up the price of eggs around the country, and McDonald’s latest pledge will no doubt be challenging.

The cage-free move is also part of McDonald’s broader goal to improve its image. Last month the company it said it would stop working with a chicken supplier it used to make McNuggets after watchdog group Mercy for Animals documented abuse at the supplier’s farm in Tennessee.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, told The Wall Street Journal McDonald’s cage-free commitment is a “watershed moment.”

General Mills

While General Mills most recently made headlines with its commitment to reducing carbon emissions from its supply chain by 30% over the next decade, the company announced earlier this summer that it, too, would make the switch to cage-free eggs. The company, which makes popular items like Cheerios and Yoplait yogurt, may already be sourcing free-range eggs for its Häagen-Dazs ice cream in Europe but will expand to using cage-free eggs for all its US operations. Steve Peterson, director of sustainable sourcing at General Mills, also said he expected the move to be challenging for reasons stated earlier in this article.

Taco Bell, Pizza Hut

Earlier this year, other fast food chains announced a move to make their products more natural. Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, both owned by Yum Brands, said in May they would remove artificial ingredients and colors from their products by the end of 2015. Products like Taco Bell’s nacho cheese, for instance, would no longer use "yellow No. 6” food dye and its beef would be seasoned with actual black pepper instead of “black pepper flavor.”

The taco fast food company said artificial ingredients would be removed from 95% of its menu. Items like drinks and co-branded products, such as those made with Doritos, would still include artificial flavors and dyes.

Pizza Hut, too, said it would nix fake coloring and flavors from nearly all of its pizzas.

Panera

Also in May, Panera Bread announced it would remove certain artificial flavors, sweeteners, colors and preservatives from its menu by the end of 2016. What made this announcement stand out perhaps compared with other similar ones is that Panera published a full list of ingredients specifying which artificial items would be removed from its food. While the silly sounding name of the list, the “No No List,” seems to diminish the significance and seriousness of this step, it at least provides a higher level of insight into Panera’s plan. Included on the list are recognizable items  such as caffeine, caramel color and artificial trans fats, and hard to pronounce ingredients such as tertiary butylhydroquinone and ethoxyquin.

There are other companies that have made similar commitments this year, and there is still significant work to be done to make the food supply chain even more sustainable. However, it’s good to see major companies taking steps like these, and we hope more will continue to do so.

Voices (4)

  1. Nick @ Market Dojo:

    It does raise an interesting point though that if we as a species do try to revert back to more sustainable methods of producing food, we’d run out of planet. In fact even the word ‘sustainable’ is inappropriate because we humans, with our insatiable appetites, when adhering to more environmentally-friendly approaches make our population even less sustainable!

    The only solution is to cull our species or find some new planets. http://www.worldpopulationbalance.org/3_times_sustainable.

    Or we keep the severe imbalance across the globe the same, with 791 million people facing chronic undernourishment in developing countries (http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm) whilst 68.8% of the US population is overweight or obese. (http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/Pages/overweight-obesity-statistics.aspx)

    Yes, everything in moderation…sadly a lot easier said than done.

  2. Jason Busch:

    Vegan cults? Plueeessszeeee ….read your science and look at the research.

    I do believe the urban population can survive on fewer eggs — and they’d probably lower the public sector share of our health care costs considerably if they did.

    Everything in moderation …

  3. Randy Janssen:

    Groups like the HSUS, PETA and the ASPCA are vegan cults that want to stop the use of animals by increments. They want to raise the prices of eggs and lower the quality. That is what will happen when the cage free hens eat poop covered food scratched up from urine covered ground. They will also eat anything else they can find. Cage free eggs are also more labor intensive. Why do you think farmers went into modern egg production. They wanted to control the quantity and quality of feed and reduce the damage done by the chickens to each other. A farmer just returned from Cuba, where they are still using outmoded methods of production. They get about 1/8th of the output as the US. Do you really think our urban population can survive with that. You should listen to farmers who actually raise chickens. If you don’t you will end up paying $10.00 a doz. for eggs that should cost $2.25.

    1. bitter and twisted:

      Facts:

      Tesco UK prices

      10 basic eggs £ 1.00
      6 free range eggs £0.89

      Conclusion:

      Free range eggs can cost 50% more.

      10$/dozen is nonsense.

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