At Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs, we do understand the question. From the outside, one egg looks a lot like another. And when you regularly see eggs at the store for $2 dollars a dozen (and sometimes less) you begin to see this as the “real” cost of eggs. From there it’s natural to assume that anyone who charges more is just padding their profit.
But before we talk about why our free range organic eggs cost more, let’s first look at why their eggs cost less. Consider that a typical hen can lay almost one egg per day. But to feed and house her in a heated, ventilated barn for a year is not inexpensive. After an egg is laid, it must be collected, washed, inspected, and graded for sale. Finally, the eggs must be packaged and shipped to market. It’s a pretty labor-intensive business. When your great grandparents’ generation was selling eggs straight off the farm to neighbors or to local stores, the inflation-adjusted cost was way, way over $2 a dozen. In those days, people accepted that food had to be a significant part of their overall household budget because most people had first-hand knowledge of how difficult it was to produce that food.
The reason that commodity eggs can sell today for an almost laughably small amount of money (less than a bottle of water, less than a cup of coffee) is the result of giant agribusiness and the blind pursuit of “efficiency.” Efficiency sounds good, and it is good when balanced with other costs and considerations, but in this case, efficiency means putting hundreds of thousands of hens into a warehouse, stacked floor to ceiling with battery cages that cram six hens into a space the size of a microwave oven. The overcrowding, filth, disease and general misery of the animals is so extreme that it stands out even in the world of mass-produced animal agriculture. Their feed is a “least cost formulation” lacking essential nutrition, but that does usually include antibiotics to control the diseases that spread in the overcrowded barns. But, it is efficient! They can crank out millions of eggs and still make a small profit at $2 a carton.
We simply won’t do that. It’s bad for hens and bad for people. And thankfully, now that consumers are learning about these practices and speaking out, change is coming. “Cage Free,” which doesn’t quite mean what it sounds like (i.e. the birds are still confined in massive numbers, cannot go outside, etc.), will still be an improvement in terms of animal welfare. It is likely to come at a higher price on the shelf too. And, it will be money well spent for hens and consumers, despite its shortcomings.
Our farming practices are far better still. We are USDA Organic, Certified Humane Free Range, which means free access to ample pasture space except in very cold weather, ample space in the barn, no confinement whatsoever (“Cage Free” can’t say this, learn more here), roosting spaces, nesting boxes, high quality organic feed and much more. We do this on true small family farms that support real farm families and their rural communities. So, when all is said and done, you will get 12 humanely raised, organic, antibiotic free, protein-filled, nutritionally dense eggs for a few dollars. When you compare that value to your cable bill, your car insurance, or just about anything else at the grocery store – it starts to seem like a pretty good deal.
So the question we ask is not why Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs cost so much, but why do those other eggs cost so little?