It is a common assumption that you can’t have too many choices. This is particularly true in the grocery aisles, with the average store stocking nearly 40,000 items. While many shoppers value variety, too many choices can lead to confusion. This is often seen in the egg case.
Why are there so many types of eggs available? America’s egg farmers believe in providing a variety of choices to consumers. Differences in the breed and size of the hen, the housing environment, and the type of feed all translate into different types of eggs available for purchase. Regardless, the nutrition content is consistent across all of these types, with the exception of nutritionally-enhanced eggs in which the hens are provided with nutrient-enhanced feed (e.g., omega-3, vitamin D).
With so many choices, it’s no wonder consumers feel confused on which eggs to buy. However, retail dietitians are uniquely positioned to provide education that can help shoppers make informed decisions. Below is an overview of egg terminology that can help you guide shoppers.
Conventional: Laid by hens in enclosures that also serve as nesting space. At 15 cents per large egg, these are the most cost-effective source of high-quality protein.
Cage Free: Laid by hens not housed in enclosures. Hens roam in a building, room or open area that includes nest space and perches. While this term is common in grocery stores, it did not have a standard definition until recently. Hens in cage-free systems represent 13% of the total US flock, as of April 2017.
Organic: Laid by cage-free or free-range hens raised on certified organic feed that have access to the outdoors. The feed is grown without most synthetic pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or fertilizers and 100% of the agricultural ingredients must be certified organic.
Pasture Raised: Laid by hens who roam and forage on a maintained pasture area. The USDA does not recognize a labeling definition for pastured eggs as no standards are established.
Free Range: Laid by hens housed in an area with access to the outdoors, these hens may forage for wild plants and insects in addition to eating grains.
Omega-3 Enriched: Laid by hens fed a special diet rich in omega-3s. These eggs provide more omega-3 fatty acids, from 100mg to over 600mg per egg.
The price of a dozen eggs will widely vary due to the incremental costs associated with specialty feed, the housing environment and breed of the hen. For example, brown eggs are often more expensive because the breed of hen is larger, requiring farmers to provide more space and feed. Retail dietitians should be aware of the trade-offs between these factors and costs to help consumers make knowledgeable purchasing decisions of the incredible egg.
Download our Cracking the Egg Code handout for more information on egg terminology.