IN THE NEWS: On NOV 9, 2017
Last week, Nestlé announced that it will commit to sourcing only cage-free eggs across its entire global supply chain by 2025. This pledge comes almost two years after its U.S. division said it would switch to cage-free eggs for its food brands by 2020.
It’s a big commitment. The Humane Society of the United States has noted that cage-free hens have a relatively better life than those condemned to painful confinement in a battery cage. Nevertheless, to many animal rights activists, cage-free is still a pretty dire existence. The Humane Society insists that hatcheries within this system still kill the vast majority of male birds after birth; partial beak removal is still the norm; many are slaughtered before they reach the age of two; and starvation to force birds to molt in sync is still a common practice.
Furthermore, concerns over animal welfare and questions over the poultry industry’s environmental sustainability still leaves a wide door open for companies like Hampton Creek that seek plant-based alternatives to the chicken egg.
Nevertheless, the announcement coming out of Nestlé’s Switzerland headquarters demonstrates a growing trend: Food companies that ignore millennials do so at their own peril.
“The wrath of millennials and other concerned consumers comes down especially hard on companies stuck behind the trend of improved animal welfare,” wrote Brett Cox for Entrepreneur earlier this year.
Cox cited a 2015 study by the NGO World Animal Protection stating that 83 percent of millennials surveyed say they consider a company’s animal welfare policies when considering food purchases.
News outlets such as the Washington Post also give younger consumers credit for pushing global food companies and industry trade groups to change their ways. Anyone old enough to remember following the news in the 1980s and 1990s remembers the antics of animal rights groups, which employed tactics such as throwing paint on people wearing fur coats or setting slaughterhouses ablaze.
For those passionate about animal rights, the acting out and moral outrage at how animals have been treated in factory farms and labs may be understandable.
Those actions, however, failed to move the needle. Companies respond to cooperation, not extremism.
Now, animal welfare groups strive to be partners, not adversaries. Partnership, and yes, that overused word, “collaboration,” are the modus operandi. “Most influential activists negotiate with corporations and egg producers – not to liberate chickens but to get them roomier living conditions,” wrote Karin Brulliard for the Post in August 2016.
True, these chickens are still not living the idyllic life shown in books at the children’s section of your local library. But this news from Nestlé is still a huge step forward.
And Nestlé really has no choice. Today’s consumers may not share the same fond memories that their parents and grandparents had of noshing on a Crunch bar or an ice cream Drumstick. These new market realities mean the time for food companies to launch more responsible sourcing was many yesterday’s ago.
This long-term risk to its business is why Nestlé and its peers are embarking on plans such as eliminating deforestation from their chocolate supply chains; removing artificial colors and flavorings from products even if the reasons border more on exaggerated concerns than science; and scrambling to ensure their palm oil supplies are not linked to environmental degradation or human rights violations. Kudos to Nestle for sure, but it was only a matter of time before the cage-free eggs box was checked on Nestlé’s list, too.