Burger King Corp. said it plans over the next five years to transition to using only eggs from cage-free hens and pork from suppliers that are phasing out gestation crates for pregnant sows. The move, which is part of a corporate responsibility initiative, could raise the company's supply costs, according to industry experts.
“We are proud to announce these new, industry-leading commitments that support meaningful standards of humane treatment in our U.S. supply chain,” Jonathan Fitzpatrick, Burger King Corp.’s chief brand and operations officer, said in a press release. “For more than a decade, Burger King Corp. has demonstrated a commitment to animal welfare and, through our BK Positive Steps corporate responsibility program, we continue to leverage our purchasing power to ensure the appropriate and proper treatment of animals by our vendors and suppliers.”
The 100-percent shift away from suppliers engaged in practices that are condemned by animal welfare activists could ease pressure from those groups. The Humane Society of the United States, for one, applauded the measure.
“Burger King Corp. has demonstrated when it comes to America’s largest fast food chains, it continues to set the standard,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of HSUS said in a press release. “These changes … will improve life for countless farm animals and encourage other companies to abide by animal welfare principles up and down their supply chain.”
The move will likely result in more expensive eggs, however.
Mitch Head, spokesman for the United Egg Producers, a trade body that represents about 88 percent of egg farmers in the United States, pointed to a study by food and agriculture consulting firm Agralytica (formerly Promar International) in 2009 that estimated that cage-free eggs cost 25 percent more to produce.
Head also said retail prices for cage-free eggs are more than double the price of conventional eggs. In the past week the U.S. Department of Agriculture pegged conventional eggs at $1.18 per dozen, retail, compared to $3.59 for cage-free eggs and $3.87 for organic eggs, he said.
In a recent report on fourth-quarter same-store sales, research and consulting firm Bellwether Food Group singled out Burger King as a company that suffers from “brand relevance and consistency issues.” Rob Hardy, founding partner of the firm, said he saw Burger King’s latest move as a defensive measure.
“The way chain restaurants and supermarkets look at this, they don’t want to have the next PETA video being one of their suppliers,” he said, referring to the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, which, like HSUS, has in the past released videotapes of farms mistreating animals. “The challenge for all of them is finding enough supply, because [gestation-cage-free pork] and cage free eggs aren’t the normal high-volume production practices,” he added, noting that was likely the reason for the five-year timeline for the switchover.
Burger King has been transitioning its more than 7,200 domestic restaurants to cage-free eggs since 2007, and its BK Positive Steps corporate responsibility program is more than a decade old.
The company announced last month that it was going public again after being taken private in late 2010, and it recently lost its status as the second-largest burger chain to Wendy’s.
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