As hen welfare remains at the heart of the debate, Countdown has now decided to launch an Egg Producer Programme. By making a commitment to take future supply through individual partnership agreements, the supermarket chain will help free-range and barn egg farmers increase capacity investment. Eligible farms need to share their investment plans and animal welfare information with Countdown.
FRENZ is among the inaugural members, along with Otaika Valley and Wholesome NZ; together they have planned to invest $25-40 million in free-range and barn systems.
Rob Darby, director of FRENZ, has recently accompanied Progressive to meet with parliamentarians in Wellington to discuss their new programme. His long-held relationship with Countdown started 30 years ago when the chain listed his 100 percent free-range and organic eggs in two supermarkets to ‘see how it would work’. Three decades on, FRENZ eggs are available in all Progressive stores throughout NZ.
According to Darby, the term ‘free-range’ is surrounded by widespread confusion.
“The majority of so-called free-range hens never see the light of day, let alone green pasture,” he told SupermarketNews. “The real challenge is to educate the consumer as to what is the true meaning of genuine free-range eggs. As more and more consumers question the validity of free-range claims under the truth of labels definitions, standards must become higher.”
Free-range eggs currently account for only 18 percent of all eggs produced in the country, but Countdown is looking to expand its offering by promising free-range and barn farmers a spot on its shelves. This doesn’t mean that more affordable options are set to disappear anytime soon. The majority of New Zealanders (69 percent, recent research by Colmar Brunton has revealed) still want to shop on price and have a wide choice, including caged and colony-caged eggs.
Darby maintained that, although price will always be a major contributor to a customer's decision, so will the growing realisation of the benefits of what lies beneath the shell.