Taco Bell pledged Monday that only cage-free eggs would be served across it 6,000 domestic units by the end of 2016 — earlier than any other large national quick-service chain that serves breakfast, company executives told Nation's Restaurant News.
The Irvine, Calif.-based brand is also on track to reach its previously announced goal of removing artificial colors and flavors from core menu items by the beginning of 2016.
The chain is also ditching trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup and unsustainable palm oil, and units in the U.S. and Canada will introduce aspartame-free diet Pepsi products, the company said.
Liz Matthews, Taco Bell Corp. chief food innovation officer, said the move is a result of listening to consumers who are demanding more transparency.
“That is why we remain hungry and challenge ourselves to set ambitious yet achievable commitments that make our food better, without ever compromising the flavor that our fans crave,” she said.
The move to 100-percent cage-free eggs within one year, however, is relatively lightning speed for a big chain, she added.
Josh Balk, senior food policy director for The Humane Society of the United States, agreed, saying Taco Bell’s announcement is a breakthrough for the industry.
“It’s a big deal,” he said. “They are demonstrating that major egg users can make the switch to exclusively cage-free eggs in a short amount of time, and they deserve a ton of credit for making this commitment.”
McDonald’s Corp. earlier this year said it will switch to cage-free eggs within its 16,000 units in the U.S. and Canada over the next 10 years, though officials have hinted it may be sooner.
The Oak Brook, Ill.-based operator purchases more than 2 billion eggs annually. Since 2013, 13 million of those annually have been cage-free, the company said.
Panera Bread is working toward a goal of offering only cage-free eggs in domestic units by 2020. That includes shell eggs, hard-boiled, liquid egg whites and those used in recipes — more than 120 million eggs systemwide annually, the company said.
Currently, Panera is about 21-percent cage free. The eggs also come from chickens that have never been given antibiotics and are fed a vegetarian diet.
Burger King was the first national chain to announce a move toward cage-free eggs back in 2012, Balk said. The chain has the goal of going cage-free by 2017.
Starbucks is gunning for 2020, and Dunkin’ Donuts has set the goal of being 10-percent cage-free by the end of 2016.
Balk said a growing number of large egg producers are making the cage-free commitment, making supply more available to the restaurant industry.
Taco Bell’s commitment will impact about 500,000 hens, he said, and is a response to consumer demand.
“Taco Bell has determined that their customers want animals to have a better life,” he said.
The chain will reach its goal with the help of egg producer Michael Foods, Matthews said. The move will not require an increase in prices.
Meanwhile, the company is working toward eliminating artificial ingredients from core menu items for the new year.
Co-branded products, like the Doritos Locos Tacos, and beverages won’t fall under the new policy, though Taco Bell said it plans to expand on its policies related to food simplicity, transparency and choice in coming months.
“Ingredient transparency is more important than ever to the next generation of Taco Bell customers,” Matthews said.