Albertsons Cos. announced Tuesday that it will work with its suppliers to source only cage-free eggs for its stores by 2025, a move that will affect hundreds of stores in the Sacramento region and throughout California.
The company’s 18 store brands include Safeway, a major presence in Sacramento. The grocer also has Albertsons, Vons, Pavilions, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s, Acme and Tom Thumb. Albertsons said it operates nearly 600 stores in California under the Albertsons, Safeway, Vons and Pavilions brands alone.
Albertsons said it was making the move “not only as part of its ongoing commitment to animal welfare but also in response to customer buying habits.”
The grocer also stressed that implementing the program will be based on available supply.
Overall, Boise-based Albertsons is the nation’s second-largest supermarket chain – behind Cincinnati-based Kroger – operating more than 2,200 stores in 35 states and the District of Columbia. Albertsons employs more than 250,000 chainwide.
“We take our commitment to providing responsibly sourced products seriously, and that responsibility extends naturally into ensuring our suppliers uphold humane animal welfare practices,” Shane Sampson, Albertsons’ chief marketing and merchandising officer, said in a statement. “The transition to cage-free eggs will help us continue to provide a great, humane product to our customers while ensuring that our suppliers have ample time to prepare their operations to meet increased demand from retailers.”
Albertsons’ move was applauded by Mercy For Animals, the Los Angeles-based animal-protection organization, which has organized protests, produced advertising campaigns and gathered signatures for petitions advocating widespread adoption of cage-free egg practices in the supermarket/food industries.
In a statement, MFA President Nathan Runkle said: “Albertsons has taken a significant step forward in improving the lives of farmed animals. Albertsons’ cage-free egg commitment will reduce the suffering of countless hens, and we’re hopeful it will inspire other food companies to do the same.”
Supermarket operators based in the Sacramento region said Monday that they currently offer cage-free eggs in their stores.
Chelsea Minor, spokeswoman for West Sacramento-based Raley’s, said in an email that the grocer offers “several varieties of both cage-free and organic eggs. It is our priority to provide options for our customers, so they can make a personal decision on both cost and quality.”
In another email, Kate Stille, marketing director for Woodland-based Nugget Markets, said: “We hope to be offering 100 percent cage-free eggs by 2017. At this point in time, supply for only cage-free is limited. Once the supply is sufficient enough to ensure that we can fully stock cage-free eggs, we will make the transition.”
MFA said that previous commitments to cage-free eggs have been made by Costco, Target, CVS, Trader Joe’s and BJ’s Wholesale Club. The organization said its pressing for commitments from other grocers, including Kroger.
MFA and other animal welfare groups contend that putting hens in small cages where they cannot walk or spread their wings is cruel. Many birds have been injured in cages over the years, advocates said.
Cage-free eggs and confinement of laying hens have been hot-button issues in California for years. In 2008, Golden State voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 2, which included language prohibiting farmers from putting laying hens in small cages.
However, debate rages on to this day, with animal welfare advocates saying farmers have sidestepped voter intent by investing in new cages or modifying old ones. Farmers counter that they have followed the language of Proposition 2, implementing changes at great expense to their operations.
Egg producers added that meeting Proposition 2 requirements in January last year resulted in a statewide reduction in the number of laying hens. They said that, along with drought, prompted a steep increase in egg prices in the spring of 2015.