MICHIGAN—Attorney General Dana Nessel is urging Kroger to fix “confusing and misleading” signage in its stores after a recent report showed that regular shoppers of the regional grocery chain had been misled into buying eggs from caged hens that they thought were cage-free.
Here’s the deal:
Report Reveals Customer Confusion
A report released in February from Data for Progress titled “Cracking Down on Kroger,” concluded from its polling, in part, that the way Kroger marketed eggs from caged chickens—as opposed to eggs from cage-free chickens—was “both confusing and misleading, at best.”
The report found that more than 40% of Kroger customers had bought eggs from caged chickens while believing that they were eggs from cage-free chickens. Specifically, shoppers were confused over the marketing terms “Farm Fresh” and “Grade A,” which they had incorrectly assumed had something to do with the method by which the chickens were raised.
Polling also showed “both uncertainty and misperceptions surrounding label meanings” among Kroger shoppers. And as the state’s top law enforcement official, it’s Nessel’s responsibility to protect consumers and address deceptive business practices.
What is Nessel Doing?
On Friday, a top official at Nessel’s office sent a strongly worded letter to Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen that urged the grocery store chain to “add clear signage to your stores to help consumers understand which eggs, exactly, came from caged chickens and which did not.”
The ability for shoppers to “make informed choices on how they spend their hard-earned dollars,” is also particularly important because a recently amended state law will prohibit the sale of eggs from caged hens beginning in 2025, Nessel warned McMullen in the letter.
“Shoppers should be able to decipher and trust the advertising in whichever grocer they shop,” Nessel said in a statement. “Grocers must be transparent and honest in their in-store marketing. It is troubling to read reports saying that is not what all customers are experiencing.”
What is Kroger Doing?
McMullen (and Kroger) has not issued a public response to the letter from Nessel’s office. A company spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment this week.
Other Michigan news outlets have received the same, boilerplate response via email:
“The Kroger Company of Michigan complies with all current state regulations regarding the sale of egg products. All Kroger Family of Companies egg products are clearly marked and labeled for customers to readily decipher among our product selection.”
Kroger publicly pledged in 2016 that its grocery stores would only sell eggs from cage-free hens by 2025. But last year, the company backtracked on its pledge, citing “slow industry progress and consumers’ demand for affordable eggs,” according to the Data for Progress report.
Kroger now plans to source only about 70% of its eggs from cage-free or “higher standard” chicken farms by 2030. But in the meantime, “shoppers seem confused and often misled by the marketing of eggs” at Kroger stores, according to findings in the Data for Progress report.
What’s the Difference?
Some eggs in grocery stores come from chickens that spend their entire lives within small cages, which prevent them from moving around or stretching their wings. Other eggs come from facilities where chickens are not stuck in cages, and sometimes have access to the outdoors.
According to the Data for Progress report, the vast majority of the over 300 million hens raised for egg production nationwide are confined in what the industry terms “battery cages”—which are about the size of a microwave oven, and usually confine 6-8 hens throughout their lives.
Food safety, consumer protection, and public health organizations—as well as shoppers—have increasingly opposed the caging of egg-laying chickens over concerns tied to the inhumane treatment of animals, as well as an increased risk of salmonella and other diseases.
To date, at least nine states (including Michigan) have banned the caging of egg-laying chickens with bipartisan support. Two states have passed anti-hen caging laws with ballot measures. Six other states have joined Michigan in passing laws to ban the sale of eggs from caged chickens.
Hundreds of food companies have also made public commitments to exclusively use cage-free eggs—with some setting future dates by which to reach 100% cage-free eggs in their stores. They include: McDonald’s, Burger King, IHOP, Denny’s, Cracker Barrel, Kraft Heinz, Target, Costco, Nestle USA, Taco Bell, CVS, Walgreens, Whole Foods, Arby’s, and many others.
The report concludes: “Kroger must take heed of consumers’ ethical concerns about the welfare of egg-laying chickens, and improve transparency around the production and sale of the eggs.”
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