Fortune reports that Costco is making plans to create its own chicken farm so it can produce one-third of all the chickens that it sells – including the 80 million rotisserie chickens that it sells annually. (That is a mind-boggling number!!)
According to the story, “Costco will slaughter about 1.7 million chickens a week, or 85 million a year … The move is part of Costco’s plan to have more control over its own supply chain. The wholesaler would be able to determine the size and cut of the meat. At the same time, Costco has sought to move toward antibiotic-free and cage-free chickens.” While Costco would own the facility in Dodge County, Nebraska, it would use a third party to actually operate it.
The story notes that Costco “has already made investments in the organic food space in the hopes of ensuring greater organic food supply in the future.”
This is part of a growing trend away from tightly-caged egg-laying hens, most of whom cannot do so much as turn around during their entire few months of life, and the similar restrictions on ‘meat’ chickens such as those Costo’s announcement concerns.
A significant number of supermarket chains and their egg suppliers – whose hens produce prodigious quantities of eggs annually, ordinarily under conditions that should be condemned as inhumane, are following the lead of consumer pressure and altering their egg production practices.
As well as altering housing conditions – doing away with tight-confining cages letting hens and ‘meat’ chickens roam free in still-tightly-enclosed-barns – a growing number of producers are moving to the ultimate: letting them roam free in old-fashioned ‘farm yards’. Some are dropping, or reducing, the use of antibiotics – intended to keep poultry healthy through their increasingly-shorter life cycle – and possibly even cutting back on the steroids etc. that enable (?) hens to produce two pounds of breast meat in the time it used to take, not all that many years ago, to bring a chick to close to a total of two pounds of weight, overall.
This is, it seems, what consumers want. And rightly so.
But what’s being overlooked, or at the very least underplayed in press coverage of this remarkable change of direction by a major industry, is the cost factor: Chickens have been raised for their meat, and encouraged to produce eggs, in extremely close proximity for two very practical reasons: The cost of real estate, and the convenience of being able to mechanically mass-feed/egg harvest for relatively small sums, overall.
Shifts toward less livestock control (the hens or ‘meat-bound’ being left, to a greater or lesser degree, on their own) means both feeding and harvesting costs go up. The former increases even more when the feeding move extends to ‘organic’ — a term that has its own sub-categories, ranging from GMO (meaning no Genetically Modified Organisms in the feed) through the likes of gluten- or soy-free (pointing to types of modifying of the feed) almost to ‘hey kid, you’re on your own’ feeding. (The latter, is of course, an exaggeration!)
In my (Central Virginia) area, you can buy a dozen large ‘Sunny Farms’ (yeah, right) eggs from Walmart for around $2.50. For a half a dollar or so more, you can get eggs labeled as ‘cage free’. For a further $2.25 plus, you can get eggs that, in addition to being ridiculously over-packaged, are described as ‘organic’.
My town has something called a ‘trade lot’, a place where sellers of whatever can offer their wares on the first Saturday of the month. Last month, there was an egg-seller, offering dozens at $4.00 a pop. Not cheap – but absolutely worth the money. He says his hens “move to new grass every two days.”
There is NO way major egg producers, with millions of chickens popping ‘em out daily, could do that: Imagine a never-ending Easter-Egg hunt across all those stretches of green!
Moves toward purer, closer-to-natural foods are wonderful – but the results do come at a price, and one has to wonder, how much is the consumer prepared to pay for a dozen eggs?
The four-dollar egg guy’s ‘products’ have tougher shells, yellower yolks, and way more delicious taste than one expects, or gets, from the likes of ‘Sunny Farms’, who really should not allowed to use that name, since from the day they were born through the day they die, his hens never see sun or anything closely resembling it.
Me? I’ll gladly pay the four bucks per dozen for what I perceive to be a truly superior product.
But producers, please note: You tell me something is that good, and I come to perceive it is, you’d better not slack off and offer me a lesser product. I won’t buy it.
But I will talk about the rip-off – here!
This switching-from-factory-chickens/eggs is extending, in a major way, to fast-food chains. I will do a short post on that shortly.