Word of Mouth

Einstein's is liberating its chickens -- or maybe it's not

The Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, which owns several bagel and coffee chains, including Einstein Bros, recently announced that it will start using cage-free eggs in its stores.

"We're proud to be launching this initiative and believe that moving in this direction will help improve the treatment of hens," says James O'Reilly, chief concept officer for the group, in an article by the Humane Society of the United States.

The Lakewood-based company is merely the latest company to bow to the trend. "National restaurant chains including Burger King, Wendy's, Subway, Denny's, Red Robin, Quiznos, Sonic, Hardee's and Carl's Jr. have started using cage-free eggs," says the article, which continues: "[S]upermarket chains including Wal-Mart, Costco, Harris Teeter, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and Safeway have increased their sales of cage-free eggs; and Hellmann's mayonnaise will convert 100 percent of the 350 million eggs it uses each year to cage-free."

Like the term "organic," the definition of "cage-free" is not entirely clear. In the May/June issue of Vegetarian Times, the mildly to outright annoying Jonathan Safran Foer actually makes a good point about industry's affection for the vagueness of "cage-free:"

"The industry takes 'cage-free' as literally as they possibly can," he tells the magazine, "which is to say the animal is literally not in a cage. But 30,000 birds in a single room -- where the space allotted each one isn't any more than in a cage -- is simply not what people have in mind when they go out of their way to buy cage-free. Labeling needs to be more accurate."

Einstein Noah's switchover is slated to take place this summer. The company did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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Jessica Chapman
Contact: Jessica Chapman