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Farming flaps affect new Starbucks, Burgerville dairy purchasing policies

Farming flaps affect new Starbucks, Burgerville dairy purchasing policies

SEATTLE Starbucks Corp. and the Burgerville and Finagle a Bagel quick-service chains reflect new commodity-buying strategies as special-interest groups—or a company’s own ethical priorities—provoke purchasing decisions that aren’t centered on cost. —Changes undertaken recently by

Starbucks, which owns about 5,500 of the chain’s nearly 8,500 U.S. coffeehouses, last month increased from 27 percent to 37 percent the proportion of those corporate outlets’ dairy purchases that come from farms whose cows are not given an artificial growth hormone that stimulates milk production. —Changes undertaken recently by

Though the U.S. government has approved the use of recombinant bovine growth hormone, or rBGH, for more than a decade, some consumer activist groups targetingStarbucks and other operators contend that the practice has not been studied adequately in terms of possible harm to human health. —Changes undertaken recently by

“We have not made a formal decision that we are doing this nationwide,” said Brandon Borrman, a Starbucks spokesman. “We are talking with suppliers to find if they can make this happen.” —Changes undertaken recently by

“We don’t make any health claims one way or the other” related to rBGH, Borrman said. “The only reason we’re looking at this is because our customers are asking for this.” —Changes undertaken recently by

Borrman identified Alaska, Idaho, Montana, New England, Northern California, Oregon and Washington as areas where Starbucks Coffee outlets now are purchasing products from dairies that don’t use rBGH. —Changes undertaken recently by

Borrman said the increase in Starbucks’ purchases of milk, half-and-half, whipping cream and eggnog from dairies that shun rBGH was based on vendors’ changes that only happened to coincide with a Dec. 5 “National Call-In Day” organized by the nonprofit Food & Water Watch organization. FWW had asked its members to call a Starbucks Corp. consumer contact number to ask the company to “hold the hormones.” —Changes undertaken recently by

Though the Washington, D.C.-based group issued self-congratulatory statements online and urged members to maintain pressure on Starbucks, Borrman said the timing of the protest and the abandonment of rBGH by some suppliers was coincidental. “We started looking at this two years ago,” he said. —Changes undertaken recently by

Meanwhile, 39-unit Burgerville, based in Vancouver, Wash., and owned by The Holland Inc., recently began purchasing for its breakfast items eggs only from hens not held in individual cages and not given antibiotics, hormones or feed containing animal matter. —Changes undertaken recently by

The 20-unit, Auburndale, Mass.-based Finagle A Bagel chain on Jan. 29 said it, too, had moved to exclusively buying cage-free eggs. —Changes undertaken recently by

“This furthers our commitment to provide the best-quality products for our guests and our community,” said Laura B. Trust, the chain’s owner and co-president. —Changes undertaken recently by

Starbucks, Burgerville purchasing shifts amid farm hormone flap —Changes undertaken recently by

Such hen handling is in keeping with the guidelines of the Humane Farm Animal Care organization. That nonprofit group contends that mainstream egg producers are inhumane if they keep hens in small, individual cages that prevent the birds from following important natural behaviors—a charge refuted by some producers and industry trade groups. —Changes undertaken recently by

“Cage-free eggs are an extension of our promise to Burgerville guests that they will always receive food that is made from products that are fresh, local and sustainable,” said Jack Graves, chief cultural officer of The Holland. —Changes undertaken recently by

Burgerville long has cultivated ties with regional and smaller specialty producers of beef and turkey and also supports wind-generated power by paying a premium for the electricity used by its restaurants and corporate headquarters. —Changes undertaken recently by

In changing its policy for buying an estimated 600,000 eggs per year, Burgerville joins such larger operators as Bon Appetit Management Co. of Palo Alto, Calif., in making purchasing decisions based on environmental or health concerns. Bon Appetit, a contract catering division of Compass Group North America, buys about 8 million so-called cage-free eggs annually, in keeping with its corporate goal to buy “local” and organic products when possible. —Changes undertaken recently by

Bon Appetit has purchased cage-free eggs in shells since late 2005, but it also buys preshelled liquid eggs from conventional producers for large-batch preparations in some applications. —Changes undertaken recently by

“Cage-free eggs do cost more, but we have not passed that cost onto customers,” said Maisie Greenawalt, director of communications and strategic initiatives for Bon Appetit. —Changes undertaken recently by

The company operates more than 400 cafes in 29 states and serves more than 80 million meals annually, especially at universities and technology companies. —Changes undertaken recently by

Tara Wefers, The Holland’s vice president of marketing and communications, said cage-free eggs currently cost more than other eggs, but she did not specify the difference. —Changes undertaken recently by

Wefers said the prevailing wholesale cost of conventionally produced eggs could fluctuate during the year so it is conceivable that cage-free eggs at times would cost the same or less. —Changes undertaken recently by

A recent USA Today article on egg varieties and trends cited one supplier’s estimates of the retail price per dozen for conventional, cage-free and organic eggs, indicating that if regular eggs were 79 cents to $1.50, cage-free eggs would cost $2.09 to $3.49 and organic eggs would range from $2.79 to $4.99. —Changes undertaken recently by

Wefers said Burgerville recently adjusted its menu prices to reflect changing business conditions, so “no further price increases are planned” for egg items, such as a $4.09 two-egg platter and $2.49 meat-and-egg bagel sandwiches. —Changes undertaken recently by

Wefers said Burgerville has no immediate plans to expand its chain, so it has no concerns about needing to find additional suppliers beyond the family-owned Washington farm that supplies its eggs and the smaller cage-free farms it could turn to as emergency alternatives. —Changes undertaken recently by

A longtime purchasing officer for national restaurant chains who requested anonymity said he did not foresee a wide-scale shift within the industry to cage-free eggs in the near term, if ever. “There are not enough free-range chickens out there to supply foodservice, not even close,” he said. —Changes undertaken recently by

What’s more, he said, “the cost is much higher.” —Changes undertaken recently by

In developing its policy, Burgerville consulted with the Humane Society of the United States, which supported the change by issuing a press release, sending e-mails to members in the chain’s Northwest trading areas and paying for a full-page congratulatory ad in a daily newspaper serving the Vancouver market. —Changes undertaken recently by

Response to the egg initiative has been positive, Wefers noted. “Over one weekend we got 800 e-mails from customers thanking us,” she said. “Employees have been sending e-mails saying, ‘Thank you.’ It’s been an inspiring leap.” —Changes undertaken recently by

Burgerville will use posters and table tents to promote the egg change while educating its general managers about the switchover, Wefers said. —Changes undertaken recently by

For its part, Starbucks has not been making any in-store statements about its increased use of products from dairies that do not treat cows with rBGH while the chain ponders a final decision about a possible systemwide purchasing change. —Changes undertaken recently by

A food processing and distribution executive who requested anonymity said a systemwide milk purchasing shift by Starbucks could be expected to reduce the chain’s supply options and push its product costs higher. —Changes undertaken recently by

The rBGH controversy previously pitted dairies against one another in disputed public-information campaigns and lawsuits over the allegedly implied disparagement of products from producers that use the hormone, also known as rBST. Litigation against dairies that had claimed their milk was “hormone-free” have yielded settlements in which such producers instead now label their products as coming from cows that are not treated with rBGH, but that “no significant difference” exists between milk from animals that are or are not treated—a position endorsed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. —Changes undertaken recently by

Even government health officials in Canada, which along with Japan and the European Union prohibits the use of rBGH, have stated that no residues of the substance can be detected in any milk, regardless of its source. —Changes undertaken recently by

Nonetheless, activist groups critical of rBGH use sometimes refer to milk from preferred dairies as being “free” of the hormone. Yet some health watchdogs say the risks instead are that rBGH usage is known to be associated with higher rates of an udder infection called mastitis, which can require the treatment of cows with antibiotics that may alter the nutritional or allergenic characteristics of milk. —Changes undertaken recently by

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