Ecoeggs has been crowned the shonkiest product of the year by the people of Australia, courtesy of a nation-wide poll by consumer advocate group CHOICE. The lesson here is that if you're going to call your eggs "free range" and charge customers a premium, you shouldn't treat your poultry like tinned chickens of the sea. But according to the company, it's all just a big beat up.
Last week, we reported from CHOICE's eighth annual Shonky Awards, which hands out "prizes" for the worst Australian products and services of the year. Competition was tight in 2013, with life-threatening baby dummies, shrinking "man-sized" tissues and shonky credit repair services all threatening to take out the top gong.
But at the end of the day there can only be one top Shonky. After tallying more than 2500 votes, CHOICE has declared Ecoeggs the People's Choice winner for shonkiest product of the year, with the egg brand claiming over 900 votes in total.
The company was nominated by CHOICE due to its practice of housing approximately 20,000 birds per hectare of space in its "free range" enclosures. In addition, the eggs carry a premium price tag of $6.60 and only contain 10 eggs per carton.
"ecoeggs met several of the Shonkys criteria through consumer confusion, consumer frustration and plain outrage," a CHOICE spokesman said. "The people have spoken, and ecoeggs have been crowned the People’s Choice Shonkiest Shonky."
Not surprisingly, the company has issued a statement to reject the ignoble award, which it describes as a "huge shock":
Our families has been in poultry farming for generations and take the quality of our product and welfare of our hens very seriously. We refute Choice's Shonky award completely. Yes we have been running an average range density of approximately 20,000 hens per hectare. It is has been published on our website for many years and has been printed right on the carton for some time.
As our product easily satisfies the current requirements and we have provided our data to the public (not a requirement) we have not deceived consumers, done nothing illegal or unethical in selling our product as free range.
While it's true that there’s no single recognised standard for what "free range" means in Australia, we think it's wrong for companies to push the envelope as far as possible. The fact is, when most customers think "free range" they certainly don't envision hens with one square metere of breathing room. Ecoeggs may be following "current requirements" but that doesn't make it ethical or right.
Ecoeggs also claimed that its premium pricing is the result of a patented natural feed mixture that provides the hens with additional nutrition which increases key vitamins, minerals and Omega 3 fats in its eggs.
"We have never claimed that ecoggs premium pricing is due to lower range density," the company added.
Meanwhile, a cursory glance of the Ecoeggs website's front page turns up six instances of the word "free range" and zero mentions of vitamins, minerals, Omega 3 or the aforementioned chicken feed. Hmm.
On a wider note, if you're planning to buy eggs that are produced as humanely as possible, it's important to do your own research. As Ecoeggs proves, the blurb on the carton usually can't be trusted.