The demand for cage-free eggs is skyrocketing.
Walmart says it's making the switch, joining major players like Costco, McDonalds, Jack in the Box and Trader Joe's that are in transition for cage-free eggs. Walmart says they will be totally cage-free by 2010. That gives egg farmers across the country time to switch their barns to meet the growing demand.
"All these people wouldn't be changing to cage-free eggs if the consumer didn't want them," said Lakeside egg farmer Frank Hilliker. Hilliker Ranch has been around San Diego County since 1942. But until a new California law took effect on January 2015, most farmers were not making the switch. Proposition 2 required farmers to expand their cages and give hens more room, or create cage-free barns.
"Cage-free used to be something special," said Hilliker, "now this type of style cage-free will be your new convention egg." Hilliker has transformed two of his five barns into cage-free. The third generation farmer has 24,000 birds that produce about 18,000 eggs a day.
But will the cage-free egg demand lead to lower prices? Right now a dozen cage-free eggs can cost $2 to $3 more than other eggs. Farmers are not able to raise as many hens under the new rules and egg production is down. But if farmers want to meet the demands of giants like Costco and Walmart, competition could leader to lower prices for the consumer.
"Most people don't want to pay more," said Hilliker, "we've lost a lot of business." But he's finding a growing demand for his cage-free eggs is changing that. The cost to convert his barns is around $200,000 but he hopes the increased demand will make it worth the switch.