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The Story So Far ...

March 2004

March 2004 - Woolworths commits to selling only free range eggs.  They put a sign up in their stores :

 "FREE AS A BIRD - We are the first retailer in South Africa to sell only free range eggs - we think our hens enjoy having space to behave like hens should."

Woolworths CEO, Simon Susman, says : "From now on, no Woolworths laying hen will ever have lived or spent any of her life in a cage."

What are we supposed to think from a statement like this?

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December 2007
December 2007 - Discovery that in spite of all this…. Woolworths uses battery eggs in all their salads, omelettes, quiches, pancakes, baked and prepared foods.  

Only their egg sandwiches are made with free range eggs – since October 2007 (i.e. 3 years after their statement.)

Woolworths said : "CAKES/BISCUITS :  We currently do not use free range eggs, but it is an area that we are positively and actively working towards." (December 2007)

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October 2008

year later – no change!

Woolworths said : "CAKES/BISCUITS : The bakery would like to use free range eggs, but we are currently experiencing a shortage, which would eventually impact on the availability of cakes and biscuits."
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March 2009

Woolworths Food representative speaks to documentary filmmaker Wendy Hardie :

The Woolworths Food rep says that Woolworths products are made with liquid egg, which come from an outsourced liquid egg factory that only uses battery eggs.  Woolworths has looked into the cost of setting up another, exclusive, liquid egg factory which could use free range eggs, but it is too expensive.

The Woolworths Food rep says there was a public outcry about battery eggs in cartons, to which Woolworths responded – and they now only sell free range eggs (in cartons!)  But, she said, there has never been any similar outcry about Woolworths’ use of battery eggs in products... 

She says that Woolworths do constant market research, and that nobody has ever complained about this issue before.

Filmmaker Wendy Hardie suggests that this is because people didn't know…but the Woolworths rep didn’t agree.

She says they judged customer satisfaction by sales - and sales of Woolworths’ products made with battery eggs remains good!

Suggestions : We could all make a difference by refusing to buy any Woolworths products that contains egg – quiches, pre-cooked meals, cakes, biscuits etc - until they agree to commit to using only free range eggs in their food.

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March 2009

Woolworths Press Office official statement : "The eggs used as ingredients in recipes are not necessarily free range. In some cases they are – e.g. the eggs used to produce Woolworths egg and mayonnaise sandwiches are free range. This is clearly labelled."

The phrases "not necessarily" and “in some cases they are” are used to imply to customers that some Woolworths’ products are made with free range eggs.  Woolworths is then asked to supply a list of these products…. but they never reply.
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April 2009

Compassion in World Farming publishes an article by Filmmaker Wendy Hardie in "Animal Voice" Magazine -alerting people to the fact that Woolworths uses battery eggs in it's products, in spite of all their statements, advertisements and signs to the contrary. 

Many customers responded, with e-mails pouring into Woolworths from customers expressing surprise and dismay, asking their favourite retailer to please stop using battery eggs.
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April 2009 (continued)

Woolworths replies : "Using free range eggs, at this stage, as an ingredient in value added products (which in themselves are costlier e.g. prepared meals) is regrettably, not cost effective.

We are, however, constantly pushing the boundaries of each element of our Good business journey and are steadily seeking increased production capacity for free range eggs. We expect the related costs will come down to a point where we will be able to use free range eggs as ingredients.

We will keep pushing this, and other initiatives we have pioneered..."

- Woolworths in store signage

Woolworths has reassessed the related in store signage in view of the confusion it may have created among some customers. Woolworths sells only whole free range eggs, but the eggs used as ingredients in some food are not free range. We did not intend to mislead our customers and we will be revising our in store signage to make this clear to customers.

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June 2009

Customers express their disappointment and anger at this standard letter. 

Many engage further with Woolworths, saying they feel the letter reveals that Woolworths has no actual plan in place for addressing the egg issue, that Woolworths isn’t listening to their customers, and that their complaint isn’t being considered seriously enough. 

It is the evasive quality of the standard letter, that leads to an even greater outcry from Woolworths customers. 
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June 2009 (continued)

Woolworths customer, Dianne Pitro, complains to the Advertising Standards Authority about the Woolworths sign - saying that it is misleading.  She asks that Woolworths be made to remove the poster and issue an apology for deliberately misleading their customers. 

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July 2009

News of Woolworths’ use of battery eggs is spreading. 

Stories appear in newspapers, online sites & communitiy newspapers & newsletters around the country.

Wendy Knowler – Consumer JournalistConsumerwatch@ecr.co.za

Graham Howe – Cape Times Columnist - howerite@mweb.co.za

Maureen Marud - Argus Action - maureen.marud@inl.co.za

Urban Sprout - http://www.urbansprout.co.za/is_
woolworths_just_another_bad_egg

Biophile - www.biophile.co.za

Living Wealth www.onearthling.net

Glasspearl
http://glasspearl.co.za/blog/2009/08/03/
woolworths-using-battery-eggs-in-products/comment-page-1/

Fast Moving - http://www.fastmoving.co.za/fmcg-files-archive/inside-job/inside-job

John Maythem from Cape Talk invite Woolworths on his show to explain their position, but they declined his invitation.

***

Interested individuals and organizations express their anger at Woolworths for misleading them on this issue, and say they want to get involved in showing Woolworths how much they want a change over to free range.
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June / July 2009

Woolworths’ customers are invited to 2 filming days – to voice their grievances on camera. 

Customers say :

1) they feel they haven’t been heard by Woolworths, and question whether Woolworths actually really cares about it’s customers, and what they want.

2) they feel that the standard letter from Woolworths glossed over their complaints, made generalized statements about the Good Business Journey, and most worryingly, revealed that their is no actual plan in place to phase out the use of battery eggs!

It was the lack of a plan that upset people most, and which has made people question Woolworths’ commitment.

3) Most customers say they will stop buying Woolworths products containing egg until Woolworths commits to using only free range eggs.  One customer says she was so angry to discover that she’d been mislead into consuming products made with battery eggs, that she has closed her account.  Many others say they will no longer shop at Woolworths at all anymore.
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July 2009

In a letter to the Cape Times (14th July 2009) Julian Novak Head of Foods at Woolworth, writes to say that Woolworths is proud of the fact that they only sell free range eggs (in cartons), and that they are working hard to extend this to all products : "It's what we would prefer" but "using free range eggs in all recipes is, regrettably, not currently cost effective.  We expect the costs will come down as the industry grows.  Our long term goal is to use free-range eggs in all products and we will keep driving this."
Questions to Julian Novak :

Q : How will the cost of free range eggs come down if an ethical retailer like Woolworths isn’t prepared to get behind it?

Q : Who do they expect to take the risk? The farmers?  The suppliers?  Or the supermarkets?

Q : Which supermarket will get behind it first if Woolworths doesn’t?

Q : Marks & Spencer moved over to using only free range eggs in ALL it’s products in 2002 – i.e. 7 years ago.  Woolworths has been affiliated to Marks & Spencer since the 1940’s, and they are in constant contact with one other.  Woolworths beat Marks & Spencer to scoop the Most Responsible Retailer of the Year Award in Barcelona this year.  So…why is Woolworths so far behind Marks & Spencer on this battery egg issue?  Are they taking advantage of a less informed, and more accepting South African public?  Does that make it right?

Q : What are the steps that are needed to move across to using only free range eggs? 

Do you have any further QUESTIONS for Julian Novak?  Please enter them in the comments box when you sign this petition
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July 2009

Woolworths customers Wendy Hardie (filmmaker), Ivan Ginsberg & Steve Jacobs (from Living Wealth), and Fransje van Riel (writer & journalist) meet with Woolworths – where they present the video of interviews from unhappy customers.

They also pass on customers’ main concerns:  

1) That Woolworths doesn’t seem to care about it’s customers and doesn’t seem to be taking their complaint in this regard seriously enough.

2) That the Woolworths standard reply was perceived by many as “corporate gas”, and worryingly revealed the absence of any actual plan in place for moving over to using free range eggs – causing many customer to further lose faith in Woolworths’ integrity, and other claims they’ve made.

3) That this incident has lead many customers to question Woolworths integrity in their other claims.

They ask if Woolworths could please reassure customers that there is a concrete plan in place for switching to free range eggs in Woolworths food, with a time frame attached. 

The Woolworths Management team is unable to confirm any such plan, but suggests a further meeting, to explain the Woolworths Good Business Journey in more detail, and how it pertains to free range food.
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22 July 2009

The Advertising Standards Authorithy rules in favour of Woolworths.  In their ruling they say :

"The advertisement states "We're the first retailer in South Africa to sell only free range eggs...." (our underlining).  The complainant (Dianne Pitro) submitted that her interpretation was the respondent (Woolworths) sold and only used free range eggs in its products."

The ASA says their job is to consider this from the point of view of a "hypothetical reasonable person", and concludes that : "an ordinary, person who is neither hypersensitive nor overcritical" would realise that "the advertisement states that the respondent (Woolworths) was the first to sell free range eggs, not that it exclusively uses free range eggs." 

"This advertisement makes no mention of the respondent's overall practice nor is it a statement on the ingredients used in its products in general.  It merely communicates to the shoppers that the eggs sold, are all free range, which is true."

Strangely, the ASA only refers to the first half of the sign in their ruling, and leaves off the second part, making absolutely no mention of the phrase : "....we think our hens enjoy having space to behave like hens should
So…does Woolworths think that hens enjoy having space, or not?  Which hens does this refer to?  All Woolworths hens?  Or only some Woolworths hens? 

What do you think of the ASA Ruling?  Please enter them in the comments box.

Download the ASA Document in PDF

What do you think of the ASA Ruling?

Sign the petition and include comments to the ASA >>

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August 2009

Dianne Pitro tries to appeal the ASA decision, but is told that more than 10 days have elapsed since the ruling, so she is therefore unable to appeal.

Filmmaker Wendy Hardie requests an interview with the ASA to find out more about this ruling. 

The ASA agrees to an interview.

The ASA is a self-regulatory organisation, set up and funded by the marketing industry.  In other words the sort of advertising agency that created the Woolworths egg sign under question, could feasibly be one of the ASA funders!  It also emerged that a single person, with no legal qualifications, made the ruling alone. The ASA sent through a statement saying that this is of course then vetted by the Unit Manager, and signed off by the Head of Legal and Regulatory Affairs, who does have a legal qualification . 

The ASA ruling on Dianne Pitro's complaint, however, offered no logical or linguistic or strategic reasons for their verdict, it appeared to just be an opinion.  It also looked at only half the sign, and went on to insinuate that any customer who thought the sign was misleading, is not a hypothetical “normal”, “reasonable” person, and is “hypersensitive” and “over critical”.  This is the opinion of one person (vetted by the Unit Manager and signed by the Head of Legal), seen against the opinion of numerous Woolworths customers, who did indeed feel very mislead by the sign. 

The ASA also refused Dianne Pitro the right to a late appeal, saying that she should have read in the rules that she had only 10 days in which to appeal, and that if she didn't read this, then they saw no reason to allow her to appeal.  They also said that no other person may ever in the future complain to the ASA about this Woolworths sign being misleading!  (So hope all you consumers out there feel protected.)  Lack of funding is apparantly leading to doubts in some circles as to whether the ASA will be able to continue operating in the near future. For all these reasons above, we felt that it was unecessary to interview the ASA. 

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22nd September 2009

A manager from Woolworths Good Business Journey meets with Woolworths customers Ivan Ginsberg (Living Wealth) & Wendy Hardie (filmmaker).  He says that Woolworths is committed not to make the same mistake again with any advertising that may in any way mislead their customers. 

However, he is not able to comment any further on any plan to move over to free range eggs, nor give any time frame for this, but says he will get back to us on all our questions. 

He says that after seeing the video of Woolworths customers expressing their dismay over the use of battery eggs in Woolworths food, Woolworths conducted their own survey amongst 7000 customers, and found that customers are not prepared to pay extra for food that is produced in an ethical, sustainable, green, organic, fair trade, free range way.

At the end of the meeting - Wendy Hardie and Ivan Ginsberg hand over a memorandum of requests from Woolworths customers, asking the Good Business Journey Manager to please report back on each point as soon as possible :

Memorandum of requests
from Woolworths Customers to Woolworths Top Decision Makers

1) Please reassure us that there is a plan in place, and please be transparent with your customers about exactly what that is.

2) Please give us a time frame for this?  When can we look forward to being able to buy food at Woolworths that isn’t made with battery eggs?

3) Please restore our shattered faith in Woolworths integrity – and reassure us that we can believe your other claims going forward.

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The 9th of October 2009 WORLD EGG DAY

An online petition is started : it asks Woolworths to please STOP using battery eggs, and make the switch to using only free range eggs. 

Please sign this petition, and pass on to everyone you know.

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Below : Click to Download PDF
Link to Poster : Banishing the battery egg

Below : Click Image to Download PDF
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