Are pasture-raised chickens better than cage-free? Let’s watch dueling ads to find out

Vital Farms’ new ad campaign doesn’t mince words: Most egg advertising is (expletive.)

But a new Sanderson Farms ad says the same thing: Don’t fall for marketing gimmicks when it comes to eggs.

These are companies with different chicken-raising standards, different products (eggs and chicken meat), different farmers and different customers, but the ads look surprisingly similar. Same visuals. Same tone (silly meets warm agrarian life). And, for some viewers, the same WTF reaction that I had.

“With common sense here and some hearty food here, here a chicken, there a chicken, everywhere a happy chicken,” is one of the lyrics from that Sanderson Farms ad, which has a whole satirical website — oldmacgimmick.com — to support the campaign that pokes fun at the feel-good environmentalists who want to see the entire industry take better care of chickens.

Vital Farms, the Austin-based company that sells a dozen eggs for more than $5, is playing hardball for organic grocery dollars. It has expanded quickly in the past few years, signing on lots of smaller farms that can get top dollar for their free-roaming chicken eggs.

The latest Vital Farm commercial touts all that room while calling out other companies for using labels like “cage-free,” which can be confusing to customers. “Our chickens get 108 square feet per hen. How much room does a cage-free hen get? About one. One square foot per hen,” the farmer in the Vital Farms ad says.

A rep from Vital Farms: “‘Cage-free’ eggs are laid by hens that are restricted to giant indoor barns, with little more than 1 square foot per hen. Vital Farms pasture-raised and Certified Humane hens, by contrast, enjoy at least 108 square feet of open space each and can roam and forage outside whenever they please.”

In the ad, Vital Farms doesn’t specifically call out anyone for using “free-range,” which is now a different category of eggs that falls between “cage-free” and “pasture-raised.” It’s a third category that consumers need to know about it they are assessing all the options. These birds get only two square feet and access to the outside, but they aren’t primarily housed outside.

RELATED: Natural, organic and cage-free: Decoding labels for meat, dairy, eggs

What’s a consumer to do? My answer: Think critically about all advertising, not just the ones from the companies you already like or dislike. Yes, it’s important to know that cage-free doesn’t mean that chickens are frolicking around in a field, but it’s also important to know that conventional farming might not look like the horror stories you’ve seen in activist documentaries.

I don’t think that either of these ads are winners — the Sanderson ad is too dismissive of the environmental concerns about raising chickens in confined spaces, and the expletives make the Vital Farms ad seem off brand for a company that has gone for wholesome imagery — but I mostly thought it was interesting how similar they are and how marketing firms are using the same advertising techniques, no matter which side of the story they are trying to tell.

CORRECTION: This post originally misstated the number of square feet per chicken at Vital Farms. The number is 108 square feet per chicken.

 

 

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