McDonald’s Corp. on Thursday said that it expects to get a third of its eggs from cage-free sources this year, a major milestone in the chain’s bid to shift the entire egg supply by 2025.
It’s not a small number of eggs, either: The company expects to source 726 million cage-free eggs this year.
“McDonald’s uses more than 2 billion eggs a year in the United States, so the move to 100% cage-free eggs by 2025 is a huge undertaking that we knew we could not do by ourselves,” Marion Gross, chief supply chain officer for McDonald’s in North America.
McDonald’s in 2015 put the industry’s move toward cage-free eggs on the fast track when it first made its promise to shift to such sources of eggs. Numerous other companies followed through with their own commitments.
Such a move is not necessarily easy for suppliers that have to make investments to change their production techniques to meet cage-free standards.
McDonald’s, for instance, highlighted one of its suppliers, Forsman Farms, which built new barns to support cage-free egg techniques and incorporated mobile technology to make its lighting and temperatures more efficient.
Other producers are updating farms to include cage-free aviaries and even heated floors. The company said it holds a summit each year, convening its egg suppliers to discuss shifting to these techniques.
“Initially, our family was unsure of our ability to convert our farm to cage-free egg production, as well as the benefits of a conversion based on the time, investment and training needed to make such a change,” Peter Forsman, owner of Forsman Farms, said in a statement. “However, after we committed to converting our production, we saw the positive impact to our business.”
The Humane Society of the United States has been pushing restaurants, retailers, and other companies that sell eggs to shift their supplies to cage-free sources. Getting a commitment from McDonald’s four years ago was seen as a major tipping point in that movement—it prompted numerous other restaurant chains to follow suit.
Cage-free hens represent 17.6% of the U.S. flock, according to the Egg Industry Center at Iowa State University, though that is up from 15.6% just a year earlier.
“The commitment they made to source 100% cage-free eggs represented a shift not only for our business with them, but for the industry, given their position as a leader,” Norm Stocker, vice president of food service-poultry, at McDonald’s supplier Cargill, said in a statement. “Consumer preferences are changing and people are increasingly interested in how their food is sourced.”