Competitive supermarket wars have forced down the prices of free range eggs, but Australia’s leading consumer advocacy group has warned shoppers they could inadvertently be buying poorer quality eggs.
Egg Farmers Australia revealed on Thursday that supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths, as well as discount grocery chain Aldi, have slashed prices on free range eggs by up to 40 per cent in recent weeks.
At about this time last year, the Australian Egg Corporation Limited recorded the average price of $5.40 per dozen for free range and $3.24 for caged eggs.
Now, free range eggs are about $3.80 at Coles or Woolworths.
But national consumer advocacy group CHOICE has warned shoppers that all eggs labelled “free range” in the supermarket have stocking densities up to 10,000 hens per hectare, which is significantly higher than the CSIRO guideline of 1500 hens per hectare.
A CHOICE report says that while customers are willing to pay almost twice the price for free range eggs over caged eggs, they may not necessarily be making the ethical decision they hope by coughing up the extra dollars.
The study found that about 213 million of the free range eggs on the market are produced in facilities that do not comply with the standards outlined by the CSIRO.
CHOICE, which has released an updated version of its free app CluckAR – which allows people to scan their cartons to determine whether they meet the free range standard – says more than 250 brands meet the CSIRO’s strict criteria. For the full list, click here.
Impact on farming could affect quality
Due to the reduction in “free range” prices, some egg farmers fear there will be an even greater demand for non-caged eggs.
This could mean caged egg farmers will have less money to invest in “new farming”.
Victorian Farmers’ Federation egg president and farmer Tony Nesci told The Project on Thursday he was worried about the egg industry on the whole if this trend continues, suggesting it could lead to farmers cutting corners.
“They (supermarkets) probably will absorb the costs of the price war at the moment. But long-term, what’s happened to the dairy and bread will happen to the eggs,” he said.
“You can’t sustain those low prices in a free range system. Not if you are doing it properly.”
A Woolworths spokesperson said it would ensure it “always delivers competitive pricing for our customers”, claiming recent price reductions were worn by the company and not passed on to farmers.
Coles said it had “invested millions of dollars into lowering these prices of our Coles Brand free range eggs to make them more affordable for families”.
“We are working with our suppliers and working more efficiently to reduce costs to invest in better value,” the Coles statement read.
“The price drop is jointly funded so we’ve worked with our suppliers to lower the price.”
Meanwhile, Aldi also said it had absorbed the cost “with no impact on the suppliers”.
“We do not support the introduction of pricing levels that are unsustainable in the long-term and may put pressure on the supply chain,” a spokesperson said.
“When pricing adjustments are needed, we work closely with our suppliers to reduce any negative impact and achieve the best possible outcome for their operations and our customers.”