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Natural Grocers has transitioned its cage-free eggs to free-range eggs and rolled out a new ranking system that helps customers make educated decisions when buying eggs in the store.
Through the new standard, which follows 60 years of selling cage-free eggs, Natural Grocers now requires egg-laying hens to have both the indoor and the outdoor space they need to express natural behaviors such as scratching, foraging and dust bathing. The grocer has made the change without raising prices on the eggs.
For ranking, Natural Grocers went with a bronze-silver-gold system: Bronze means chickens have space to move indoors and outdoors, and no antibiotics, hormones or growth promoters are allowed; Silver equals everything in Bronze, but chickens are given even more space and fed non-GMO feed; and Gold equals everything in Silver, but hens spend their days on an organically certified pasture and are fed organic feed.
Since the U.S. Department of Agriculture has no formal definition for “cage-free,” the term, when used, simply means chickens were not in a cage. They may have had some freedom of movement, but still have been crammed into a single barn by the hundreds of thousands, likely not what consumers have in mind when buying cage-free eggs. Free-range eggs, according to Natural Grocers, have a lower occurrence of salmonella and higher overall nutrient content.
Lakewood, Colo.-based Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage Inc. has more than 3,000 employees and operates 126-plus stores in 19 states.