Giving Chickens Room to Thrive: Natural Grocers Introduces its Free-Range Egg Standard
With over 60 years of selling 100% cage-free eggs, Natural Grocers raises the bar even higher with an industry first 100% Free-Range Egg Standard
LAKEWOOD, Colo., Oct. 11, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Natural Grocers has again raised the bar in the retail food industry by moving from cage-free to free-range eggs and rolling out a new ranking system that helps customers make educated decisions when buying eggs in the store. The new standard requires egg-laying hens to have the indoor and outdoor space they need to express natural behaviors and thrive. And while free-range eggs offer a step up in quality, Natural Grocers is not increasing its egg prices.
"When our parents launched this company in 1955, their goal was to educate people about what's really good for you, the animals, the planet and the economy," said Heather Isely, Natural Grocers' Executive Vice President. "Our new free-range egg standard gives customers access to the highest quality products possible. We didn't do this because it's trendy or because it's a hot product; we made this change because we truly believe in giving our customers the very best."
Why Natural Grocers is raising the standard and setting the industry bar higher
For more than 60 years, Natural Grocers has been the trailblazer in the good4u Revolution, championing the fight to provide consumers with food that meets the highest quality standards and is Always AffordableSM.
With the launch of its innovative new egg standard, all of the eggs Natural Grocers sells will be free-range or better. This means the eggs are not only cage-free, but they come from hens that are given the space -- both indoors and outdoors -- to act naturally and flourish. Chickens should spend time outdoors, doing what chickens do, scratching, foraging, and dust bathing. The new egg standard ensures that they get the opportunity and space to do so.
Studies have shown that free-range eggs have a lower occurrence of salmonella and higher overall nutrient content. By choosing free-range, Natural Grocers is supporting healthier hens and a more nutritious product for the consumer -- all at the same price as cage-free eggs.
Ms. Isely continued, "We are glad that the other guys will be catching up to our old standard (cage-free) in the next decade or so, because we sincerely believe that the hens that produce our eggs deserve better than to be crammed into battery cages without enough room to turn around or extend their wings."
According to the Humane Society of the United States, "Caged-laying hens are among the most intensively confined animals in agribusiness." Additionally, the Humane Society points out, "Caged hens suffer from the denial of many natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dust bathing, all important for hen welfare."
Will cage-free eggs be all that they are cracked up to be?
For the welfare of the nation's egg-producing hens, we at Natural Grocers applaud those who are pledging to go cage-free, even if it is going to take them nearly 10 years to get there. However, we are concerned about what this will really mean for hen welfare and egg quality. Many of those "cage-free" eggs could come from hens that are still packed into crowded barns with no outdoor access. Converting current battery-cage production methods into cage-free operations without taking into account flock size or genetics may result in higher death rates and other problems, such as reduced barn air quality. These new cage-free facilities could turn into little more than floor-to-ceiling enclosures that may allow hens some freedom of movement, but cram hundreds of thousands of hens into a single barn. This is likely not what customers really have in mind when they reach for a carton of cage-free eggs.
The USDA currently has no formal definition of "cage-free," so when you see that terminology written on an egg carton, all it means is that the chickens were not in a cage. At Natural Grocers, we're always raising standards, so it was important to us to define a clear standard and ranking system that we believe will help our customers understand what they are buying and also ensure that the eggs we sell in the store fit the guidelines we believe provide the best life for the chickens and highest nutrient value for our customers.
Here is a brief overview of Natural Grocers' new free-range standard and ranking system.
Bronze: Chickens have space to move and be chickens – both indoors and out. Of course, no antibiotics, hormones, or growth promoters are allowed.
Despite being the minimum standard to be carried in Natural Grocers stores, Bronze still represents one of the highest quality products that can be bought at any grocery store, including health food stores.
Silver: Everything in Bronze, plus more space for chickens to move and do what chickens do, plus hens are fed a non-GMO feed.
Gold: These hens spend their days out on organically certified pasture and are fed organic feed. Everything in Bronze and Silver is included under the Gold ranking.
What's really exciting about the new standard is that Natural Grocers will make this quality leap without increasing prices.
In addition to high quality free-range eggs, Natural Grocers is the only major grocery chain that sells 100% pasture-based dairy, 100% naturally raised meats and 100% organic produce at each location.
*Research sources available upon request.
About Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, Inc. (NYSE: NGVC; NaturalGrocers.com) is a rapidly expanding specialty retailer of organic and natural groceries, body care and dietary supplements. The company offers a flexible, neighborhood-store format, Always Affordable prices and free, science-based nutrition education programs to help customers make informed health and nutrition choices. Founded in Colorado in 1955, Natural Grocers has more than 3,000 employees and operates more than 126 stores in 19 states.