Eggs are increasingly finding themselves at the centre of a retail battle, and it is a battle that is being fought on more than one front.
With German discounters continuing to encroach on the retail turf of Britain’s big supermarkets, Tesco and other leading UK retailers have been cutting prices in a desperate attempt to defend their market.
Sainsbury’s has just reported a 13.8 per cent fall in profits for the last year and it plans to open another 15 Netto stores to compete with the discounters.
Free range eggs have been one of the weapons of choice for all the retailers, with retail prices slashed in eye catching promotions.
However, there is at the same time also a battle over the welfare credentials of Britain’s retailers.
Waitrose has just launched an advertising campaign claiming to be the only supermarket to guarantee that all its eggs are free range.
Asda is coming under pressure to announce that it will no longer sell cage eggs after its US parent, Walmart, announced that it would go cage-free.
Asda is, so far, resisting the pressure, although Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) is not relenting.
Calls for Asda to go cage free
CIWF’s CEO, Philip Lymbery said: "It’s bewildering that a subsidiary of an American company with a cage-free egg commitment, based in a country known for its leadership on farm animal welfare policies, has yet to make its own cage-free pledge.
"Walmart’s announcement proves companies can do better for hens not just in the USA, but across the world."
He has called on Asda to commit to going cage free. When we asked the supermarket for it’s response, it said: "Asda is committed to a sustainable food supply chain and to offering our customers choice and transparency into how their food is grown and raised.
"All of our eggs are British and display the Lion mark. We offer a range of products from Smart Price through to free range, all clearly labelled for customers to make an informed decision.
"We have always encouraged continuous improvement and responsible practices in our supply chain and we will follow Walmart’s progress with interest in terms of learnings for Asda,” said a company spokeswoman.
Walmart seems to have turned the tables on its British subsidiary, as US businesses are increasingly joining a wave of companies signing up to the cage-free movement.
Subway, Costco, McDonald’s, Burger King, Nestle, Sodexo, Aramark, Heinz, Starbucks and Compass Group are amongst those to have made the commitment.
Cruise companies Carnival and Royal Caribbean are also going cage-free.
Kathleen McLaughlin, chief sustainability officer at Walmart, said in a statement: "Our customers and associates count on Walmart and Sam’s Club to deliver on affordability and quality, while at the same time offering transparency into how their food is grown and raised.
"Our commitment to transition to a cage-free egg supply chain recognises that expectation and represents another step we are taking to improve transparency for food we sell in our US stores and clubs."
Transition to 100 per cent cage-free supply chain
Walmart said it would: "Transition to a 100 per cent cage-free egg supply chain, based on available supply, affordability and customer demand by 2025."
Whilst Walmart and its Asda subsidiary are competing in the mainstream of retailing, where keen pricing is seen as essential to success, Waitrose has built its reputation in the higher end of the supermarket business.
Its latest advertising campaign seeks to reinforce this message by showing consumers where their food comes from and how it is produced.
"Everything we do goes into everything you taste, and our eggs are no exception.
"Working with farmers we know and trust, we are the only supermarket to guarantee that all our eggs are free range," declares Waitrose in its latest attempt to differentiate itself from the retail mainstream.
Part of the company’s point of difference, of course, is its British Blacktail eggs, which are exclusive to Waitrose.
Supplied to Waitrose by Stonegate, the Blacktail eggs are described by the supermarket as "delicious, fresh and superior tasting eggs with golden yolks."
Blacktail producers have often enjoyed a premium for their eggs. In its publicity, Waitrose says the birds are: "Free to roam from dawn to dusk, they have access to food, drink and shelter whenever they want.
"At night, they’re housed safely in purpose-built hen houses, often powered by wind and solar energy.
"Their eggs are laid in quiet, comfortable nest boxes, and every egg is hand collected and inspected by our farmers."
All of it is aimed at the consumer with a conscience.
Shoppers wanting to be reassured
The new advertising campaign launched by Waitrose, which includes both television and newspaper advertising is, says the company, in response to the demand Waitrose is seeing for quality food and shoppers wanting to be reassured about its provenance.
It says that the television advertising will: "Take customers beyond the barn door to real farms, giving customers the chance to see first-hand where their food comes from."
Television advertisements are being filmed on the same day of broadcast. In what it says is an industry first, footage from its own farm, Leckford Estate in Hampshire, will be streamed for consumers to see.
As well as highlighting the company’s free range egg credentials, the advertisements will highlight the fact that that all Waitrose fish is responsibly sourced and that it is the only supermarket able to guarantee that all the cows providing its milk and cream have access to grazing.
"We've always been proud of where our food comes from, and the care and commitment our farmers and suppliers put into producing it," said Waitrose marketing director Rupert Thomas.
"We have never compromised on quality, and never will - but rather than telling customers what we do, we've decided to show them in an open and honest way."
Waitrose said that farms featured in the advertising campaign included a free range egg unit managed by Rachel Rivers near Marlborough and a dairy unit run by David Homer near Newbury.
It said that all national print advertising would use only images of real Waitrose farms that had been taken within 24 hours of publication.