The B2B WATT Poultry is out with its 2023 special issue of the egg industry. It is a source of hard-to-find market data about the egg industry, just as high egg prices and shortages capture consumer attention. Information about the largest egg producers and predictions about cages in the future highlight the report.

The top ten of the 38 largest U.S. egg producers include companies ranked by the size of their layer flock at year-end 2022.

1, Cal-Maine Foods, 45.97 million

2, Rose Acre Farms, 25.07 million

3. Hillandale Farms, 17.75 million

4. Daybreak Foods, 17.00 million

5. Versova Holdings, LLP, 16.95

6. MPS Egg Farms, 12.10 million

7. Center Fresh Group, 12.00 million

8. Prarie Star Farms, 10.40 million

9. Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch, 9.90 million

10. Michael Foods, 9.90 million.

The 28 of the remaining largest egg producers have laying flocks with less than 10 million hens.

WATT Poultry also reports that its survey of egg industry executives found that half of U.S. table egg-laying hens will continue to be housed in cages in 2025.

“A combination of state legislation driven by ballot initiatives and future cage-free egg purchase pledges by major food service, food processing, and retail companies are driving a gradual conversion of laying hen housing in the U.S. from cage to cage-free systems,” WATT reports.

“But this likely won’t result in a complete transition to cage-free housing, because Walmart and Kroger backed away from 100 percent cage-free egg purchase pledges in 2022. The nation’s two largest grocers responded to consumers’ continued preference for less expensive cage-produced eggs and the expectation that not enough hens will be housed cage-free by 2025 to meet all the cage-free egg purchase pledges and state mandates.”

The USDA’s Cage-Free Shell Egg Report estimates that on Dec. 1, 2022, the total U.S. cage-free layer flock had 106.8 million hens, a 12.5 million head increase from the same date in 2021.

Cage-free hens now make up approximately 34.6 percent of the total U.S. table egg-laying flock.

The total U.S. table egg layer flock on November 1, 2022, was estimated by the USDA at 309 million hens, down 5 percent from the same date in 2021

The year 2025 is both an enforcement date and a pledge time for egg purchasers who claim they are switching to cage-free eggs. Many 2025 pledges were made not by egg purchasers, but by animal activists who claim to speak for them.

“Egg Industry’s annual Top Egg Company survey has asked major U.S. egg producers how they think the nation’s hens will be housed in 2025 each year since the 2015 survey. U.S. egg producers predict that more than half of the nation’s hens will still be housed in cages in 2025,” WATT’s report said.

“The average of the 32 responses to this question was that U.S. hens would be housed 48.4 percent cage-free and 51.6 percent in cages in 2025. For this prediction to be realized, additional cage-free housing for approximately 47 million hens would need to be constructed or converted during the next two years, nearly doubling the rate of construction and conversion realized during the past 12 months.”

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