Countdown has announced its decision to only sell free range and barn eggs across all its own brand eggs by the end of 2022
According to Countdown's press release, the decision comes after the change in the New Zealand government’s Layer Hens Code of Welfare, stating that farmers must stop producing battery caged eggs by December 31 2022.
Nikhil Sawant, Countdown’s merchandise manager perishables, says the commitment is a proud moment for the Australian-owned chain.
“We are extremely proud of our direct relationships with our farmer partners. Our Egg Producer Programme has allowed these egg farmers the opportunity to invest in more free range and barn egg capacity, due to having a guaranteed retail channel through Countdown,” he says.
"This further announcement enables egg farmers to speed up their plans, and we are delighted that our partner Wholesome NZ has committed to our plans already. We hope our announcement gives further confidence to the egg industry to invest in increasing free range and barn egg supply."
Ian Higgins from Wholesome NZ says the announcement from Countdown means he is removing caged egg production completely from his Higgins Poultry business.
“It is incredibly difficult for farmers to spend millions of dollars on construction if they don’t have the certainty of supply at the other end,” he says.
“This announcement from Countdown means Higgins Poultry can completely move to free range and barn eggs as soon as November this year, because we know that our investment is secure.”
While traditional caged eggs currently make up around 70 percent of the market, since 2014 demand for free range eggs has increased 52 percent and demand for barn eggs has increased by 30 percent.
Sawant says we will only see this trend continue. However, he says it is critical that Countdown continues to offer its customers a choice of eggs and affordable options.
“Eggs are a staple for many Kiwi families and an important source of affordable protein, so we will continue to have a range of eggs so that customers can choose what suits their budget or preference,” he says Sawant.
While animal rights group SAFE applauded Countdown for listening to consumers, it wanted the supermarket to go further.
“We now expect Countdown to take the next step and listen to their Kiwi customers who have said they support them going cage-free, as they have done so over the Tasman," says ambassador Hans Kriek.
In New Zealand, a number of companies have already committed to going cage-free, including McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s.
“Internationally many large supermarket chains are going cage-free," says Kriek. "Just today, major retailer General Mills, one of the world’s largest food manufacturers, announced a global cage-free policy."
It's not just eggs Countdown has felt the heat over. Talking to StopPress in 2015, general manager of marketing Bridget Lamont said "it’s no secret that we had a rough ride at the beginning of last year with a lot of negative focus on our business, so we are very honed to hear what is said about is. And, where we can, we look to respond appropriately … We’ve learnt to listen very carefully to what is said [in the media]; and wherever we can, we look to set things right."
It's also listened to its competitors, which focus heavily on being New Zealand-owned, and, perhaps in an effort to show that it is keeping its promise to 'grow with the country', its latest ad focuses on the opening of a new store in Mosgiel and the benefits it will bring to the community.
"My view on New Zealandness is pretty simple," said Lamont. "I work with a team of 18,000 Kiwis. I’m the custodian of a brand that operates in 174 communities. I don’t know what else it takes to be a New Zealand brand ... We’re owned by an Australian company, but you walk into any Countdown and you’re going to find a group of passionate Kiwis of varied backgrounds who are working to serve other Kiwis. And for me, that’s the end of it."
Countdown's sales for 2016 increased by a record 3.8 percent to $6.1 billion.