By Will Verboven Ahead of the Heard
Just when you thought there couldn’t be more choices in the egg sections of grocery stores there arrives a seemingly even better choice. The new arrival in selected stores is called the Free Bird egg. These eggs are being distributed by crafty marketers in the BC Fraser Valley who have found that consumer gullibility knows no bounds when it comes to buying ever trendier politically-correct eggs. The egg section of grocery stores in the more affluent parts of Calgary already have a bewildering selection of eggs raised under a variety of production conditions and standards that defy common-sense, so why not add another choice. It would seem the new Free Bird egg is an attempt to get a jump on the competition already crowded with designer eggs, claiming to be free-range, organic, all-natural, cage-free, stress-free, aviary style-raised, vegetarian, GMO-free, humane-raised, antibiotic/steroid-free, renewable energy-raised, and on and on it goes. All of these special eggs have one thing in common – they are almost all brown shelled – that’s because research has shown that consumers continue to believe that brown eggs must be better.
The Free Bird claim to fame is that each egg is guaranteed to be Vitamin D enriched. That’s achieved by treating their feed with artificial ultraviolet light; which causes one to ponder, could that be an environmentally dangerous practice – should the light not be from organic sources only – like sunshine? An additional claim is that Free Bird chickens are true free-range birds. This comes out of the controversy as to how much access so-called free-range chickens have to an outdoor range. There seems to be differences amongst producers in how free range is interpreted. Some consider opening doors as free range, leaving it up to the chickens whether they want to go outside or not. In larger operations free-range requires a lot of space that requires extensive fencing, overhead netting and other facilities, all of which are expensive and labour intensive. As it turns out, a lot of well-fed happy chickens would rather stay indoors out of the heat, wind, snow, cold, rain and darkness. It’s also a lot more stress-free inside, free from worry about aerial predators. Apparently, that’s not enough for egg production purists who seem to believe that chickens need to be outside on the free range whether they like it or not. This causes one to wonder, does the chicken have the right not to be free-range? Perhaps we need psycho-therapists to determine what each chicken really wants for a fulfilling life and not be subjected to bullying to lay vanity eggs for privileged consumers.
There was a time when the supply-management egg marketing boards resisted every attempt at diversifying the egg market. They rightly contended that the eggs their growers produced were safe, nutritious, consistent, available and fairly priced. They were almost universally white because that variety of bird produced the most eggs at cost-efficient production levels. All of this made common sense but in an overindulged consumer society common sense is not enough and clever marketers have long known how to exploit gullible indulgence. It took a while but under pressure from their own members, retailers, and food and consumer lobby groups, the egg marketing boards have now embraced the concept of diverse egg type choices in the marketplace. It’s easy to see why this change of heart has come about – it means for those members involved, a very lucrative avenue to increased profits. Considering the plethora of egg marketing angles and the rather loose definition surrounding the production systems involved, niche egg marketing has exploded. If the present situation is any indication one can expect even more outlandish and exotic egg types on the market in the near future.
One has to be bemused by it all because research has shown, better yet a CBC consumer investigation show proved, that no matter the production type nor the state of mind of the chicken, the protein level of all eggs is identical and differences in vitamin levels are miniscule. Regardless of common sense, it seems some consumers still believe that trendy politically-correct brown eggs costing up to a whopping $8 a dozen must be better than regular lowly white eggs sold at $3 a dozen. Good luck to the growers, marketers and retailers of the new Free Bird egg – I expect they will soon be laughing all the way to the bank. To those smug, affluent, overindulged city consumers – congratulations – you have been willingly bamboozled once again.