The Findings are In! Are Consumers Willing to Pay for Sustainability-Related Poultry Practices?

The results from the Unified Voice Protocol’s first pilot project, covering the hot topics of cage free eggs and slow broiler chickens are here! Retailers, suppliers, and food industry partners alike can use this original data, designed to simulate consumer purchase behavior, to make critical business decisions on these topics. Learn how level of knowledge about these production practices impacts shoppers’ willingness-to-pay at retail.

Chicken and Egg 

In November 2017, the FMI Foundation’s Unified Voice Protocol kicked off by surveying over 2,000 U.S. egg and chicken consumers to determine market potential and consumer willingness-to-pay for different labels with a primary focus on cage free eggs and slow broiler chickens. The strength of this research is enhanced by the standardized approach of the protocol and the company that the FMI Foundation keeps. Without question, this project would be incomplete without coalition partners Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and the Animal Agriculture Alliance. Together, we are excited to showcase the results of this pilot project to support the industry in meeting consumer needs regarding related egg and chicken products.

Method

An online survey was distributed to 2,000 U.S. egg/chicken consumers with demographics representing the U.S. population. The survey focused on egg and chicken beliefs and consumption in addition to the egg and chicken choice experiments. 

Egg Survey

A choice experiment, measuring the strength of preference and trade-offs, was used to compare consumer demand at different information levels and price points.

Survey findings indicate that price is a significant driver for the majority of consumers, that consumer response is sensitive to information provided about cage-free production practices, and that willingness-to-pay for cage-free eggs changes in the presence/absence of other label attributes.

  • When provided no additional information, half of consumers indicate a willingness to pay a premium for cage free eggs, but at no more than $0.30 per dozen, while 33 percent of consumers indicate a willingness to pay a premium of greater than $1.00 per dozen for the cage free label.
  • When presented a choice between cage free and unlabeled eggs identical in all other aspects, cage free market share was projected to be 64 percent for a $0.00 premium per dozen, 45 percent for a $0.50 premium, and 33% for a $1.00 premium.
  • When conventional eggs carry natural and omega-3 labels the market share for purchasing cage-free went down to 41 percent, 31 percent, and 26 percent per-dozen premium for cage free of $0.00, $0.50, and $1.00 respectively.
  • Beyond cage-free: In egg purchasing decisions, consumers appear to assign highest importance to price and the presence/absence of non-GMO and organic labels; a mid-level importance to the presence/absence of cage free and omega 3 labels; and a lower-level importance to the natural label, egg color, and packaging type.

Who is the ideal customer for eggs with enhanced attributes? Demographic data reveals that willingness-to-pay for tested features goes up with household income and age. Willingness-to-pay is highest among consumers more concerned with animal welfare, naturalness, fairness, and the environment, and lowest among consumers more concerned about price, convenience, and safety. Willingness-to-pay appears to be associated with consumer beliefs (even misbeliefs) about egg production.

The bottom line: Implications from the egg survey suggest that consumer interest and willingness-to-pay for the cage free label has the potential to rise even at premiums as high as $1.00 per dozen. That said, the potential for cage-free eggs to reach a majority market share is unlikely, especially when conventional eggs offer other desirable attributes (e.g. omega-3, non-GMO). Survey results also imply that completely removing more affordable conventional eggs from the shelves is likely to result in an increase in the share of consumers not purchasing eggs.

Broiler Survey

Survey findings show that overall consumer knowledge of slow-growth chicken is low, with their willingness-to-pay being dependent on information provided. Only 16 percent of respondents believe that chicken breasts are currently too large. Consumer responses suggested that the most important label attributes in chicken purchasing are the presence/absence of organic, non-GMO, and no added hormone labels, with the least important label attributes being slow growth and no antibiotics. Preference for the slow growth label was only higher than other label attributes when surveyors were provided with pro-slow growth information. This is also the only time that consumers demonstrated shifts in their preferences for novelty, animal welfare, and naturalness. Consumer demographics were not predictive of willingness to pay premiums for slow growth labels.

Brand presence did impact consumer choice regardless of label attributes, suggesting that brands partially serve as substitutes for label claims such as organic, non-GMO, and no antibiotics. Demand for slow-growth labels was not significantly affected by brand presence.

Ultimately, survey results suggest consumer unfamiliarity with broiler production in general, showing uncertainty about the future market potential for slow growth chickens. Price is a significant driver for most consumers, though willingness-to-pay was dependent on information given during the survey. Consumers hold damaging beliefs about slow-growth claims: marketing campaigns both pro and against this label could enhance or reduce consumer demand respectively.

Next Steps

The FMI Foundation is excited to take the research from the egg survey and broiler chicken survey to the public as the final step of the Unified Voice Protocol with two upcoming thought-leadership events. The first event will take place in Washington D.C. for the food and agriculture audience, and the second event will invite to the table a broader group of researchers, media, consumer groups, public health professionals, and food and agriculture experts.

Reports are available for both the egg and broiler chicken findings on the FMI Foundation web site.  

The FMI Foundation is interested in engaging with organizations in the food, agriculture, public health, and research spaces who share our goal to create an environment of trust in the food and consumer goods industries through this Unified Voice effort. Organizations interested in partnering with the FMI Foundation to determine suitable emerging issues and to design and fund research programs should contact FMI Foundation Executive Director Susan Borra or David Fikes, Vice President, Communications & Consumer/Community Affairs at foundation@fmi.org.