0717 PROGRESS newsletter - page 4

We have an opportunity in this country to engage early with processors, food
service companies and retailers to plot a reasonable and sustainable path
to any changes in production systems. This opportunity was not afforded to
US producers. Big corporations there have made grandiose promises to use
only cage-free eggs within 10 years but, in many cases, have not set interim
milestones for purchasing patterns.
Producers are therefore not guaranteed cage-free markets in the near-future
and are unsure of when to invest in new infrastructure. The result is a chaotic
time in the US industry, with egg prices floundering. If we are to learn from what
is happening in the US, we need to be engaging with our customers and end-
consumers now, to negotiate a fairer transition for our producers. There still
exists time in which to explore the future of egg production in this country with all
stakeholders so that all benefit. Or we can wait for the revolution to overtake us.
Time for change is NOW
That consumers still reach for cheaper caged eggs on the retail shelf, does
not make them accepting of, or comfortable with, the production system.
Social media can be used very effectively to influence public opinion and harm
businesses. Cell phone cameras are omnipresent. It is virtually impossible for a
business to defend itself against YouTube or Twitter attack, unless it has nothing
to be defensive about. If, as a producer, you feel it would be difficult to explain
your production system to a group of laymen, and have them understand what
you are doing and leave them accepting and approving of it, then the production
system almost certainly needs changing.
An online petition, driven by a single student, has just been used very
successfully to force McDonald’s SA to follow their US headquarters in pledging
to go cage-free in South Africa by 2025. On the flip-side, social media could be
used very effectively by the industry to promote eggs. The UK has increased
per capita consumption of eggs by 9% in just one year through aggressive use
of social media platforms. There is no doubt we can use these platforms to our
benefit, but we need to make sure the same technology doesn’t come back to
bite us. Is your production system “YouTube ready”? - because social media
platforms are unforgiving.
Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats
With any business, it is possible to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities
and threats. The strengths in the South African egg industry and its product are
plentiful: nutritional value for money, storage life, versatility, pricing compared to
other animal proteins and national self-sufficiency. Industry weaknesses include
low per capita consumption, welfare issues, export levels and environmental
If we deal with threats before opportunities, these include inertia, ignoring global
trends, lingering concerns about cholesterol, constrained consumer spending,
social taboos, low margins, supermarket control of the market and social media.
Fortunately, there are opportunities to double local consumption of eggs, to
negotiate any transition to cage-free production on our own terms, to exploit
social media, to increase exports and local production of value-added egg
products, and to eventually equalise pricing between caged and cage-free eggs.
There is a vast middle ground between producer and welfare activist which can
be successfully exploited if the need for discussion is recognised early enough.
South African producers have an excellent product and the resourcefulness to
develop production systems which will meet corporate and consumers’ demands
for both price and welfare – but the time for discussion and forward planning is
now. Walmart, Nestlé, Sodexo and Unilever all have footprints in South Africa
and can expect to come under pressure, like McDonald’s, to implement their
cage-free pledges in every country of operation. The horizon seems to be getting
closer for South African egg producer.
The cage-free revolution is moving rapidly through the world and the South
African egg industry should make sure that they are prepared to accommodate
the change.
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