These days, it's hard to find a restaurant or supermarket not hawking cage-free eggs. But cage-free doesn't go far enough, according to Vital Farms, which says its eggs are from pasture-raised hens.
The cage-free process, in which hens are said to have room to walk around (but how much varies), is believed to be more humane for hens than conventional egg production. But Vital Farms calls the cage-free trend "bullsh*t" in a video and other content that breaks Tuesday.
It's the company's biggest marketing push in its 10-year history, and comes after more than 200 companies, including McDonald's and Walmart, set plans in motion to switch to cage-free eggs from conventional ones.
Such pledges to change to cage-free, which have come from other companies as well, "created more confusion for consumers," says Dan Brooks, director of brand communications at Vital Farms. Its latest survey, he says, found 92 percent of consumers didn't understand a distinction between cage-free and pasture-raised eggs.
In the "Bullsh*t Free" campaign, a farmer, a grandmother, a woman out for brunch and a chef call out the cage-free idea as b.s., with part of the b-word bleeped out. The chef says it in French, "connerie."
The online campaign, including shorter spots, is from Preacher, the Austin, Texas-based agency Vital Farms recently began working with. Women's Marketing handles media.
Neither "cage-free" nor "pasture-raised" eggs, explains Modern Farmer, have a legal definition, "and no agency making sure that those using it adhere to any particular standard." A consumer, it points out, could come away from the campaign thinking "pasture-raised is good, cage-free is bad," which it says is an oversimplification: "The truth is, 'cage-free is bad, but pasture-raised plus a little emblem that reads 'Certified Humane Raised and Handled' is good." Vital Farms, it notes, is certified humane.
Hens that lay eggs for Vital Farms get 108 square-feet of outdoor space per hen, according to the company, which sells eggs at chains including Walmart, Whole Foods, Publix and Target, and at about 8,000 stores overall.
"Though it's true that cage-free doesn't mean cruelty-free, it represents a major animal welfare step above cage confinement--and one that's still feasible for large-scale egg users like McDonald's and Walmart," says Matthew Prescott, senior director of food policy at the Humane Society of the United States. Looking at animal welfare, pasture-raised would rank higher than the typical free-range and cage-free systems, he says.