This “unexpected” finding is according to a study that found that taste and quality of eggs still rank high in people's considerations for purchasing eggs that claim to be ethically produced.
Having conducted interviews at shopping malls and run focus groups to learn about food purchasing habits, Adelaide University researchers now feel they better understand the reasons why people make ethical food choices.
“People who said they bought free-range eggs readily told us that they thought the eggs were of better quality, more nutritious and safer to eat,” said lead author Heather Bray.
“Consumers saw free-range as more ‘natural’ for the chickens—so the eggs were ‘naturally’ better.
“These findings are in many ways unexpected, because we thought that the welfare of chickens would be the first reason people would give for purchasing free-range eggs,” she added.
Respondents did not emphasise welfare concerns as critical for their purchase of free-range eggs, even though some participants described caged-egg production as “cruel”.
Rather, participants felt that the free-range chickens were “happier”, ate a more “natural” diet and thus produced better quality eggs.
The study, published in the journal Anthrozoös, also revealed high levels of awareness among participants of caged-egg production, compared with other types of animal farming.
Participants were more likely to buy free-range or cage-free eggs compared with meat that is marketed as being produced ethically, in part because the price difference is much smaller in eggs.
“Our research suggests that consumers are more likely to purchase a food product if it's both ‘ethical’ and viewed as being of better quality, rather than for ethical reasons alone,” Dr Bray said.
“Consumers think about animal welfare in a much broader context—they believe that better welfare is connected to a better product. Taste and quality are strong motivations for purchasing and may be part of the reason why people are prepared to pay a higher price.”
Such findings help researchers better understand the complex issues involved in making ethical food choices, she added.