Lidl’s decision to switch its egg sourcing from free range to Kipster’s enhanced barn model represents a major shift in strategy. Michael Barker hears what’s behind the move
Lidl is claiming a UK industry first after announcing it is switching its egg supply to the Kipster system that aims to be an environmental and animal welfare torchbearer.
Under the plans, Lidl’s egg supplier Griffiths Family Farms has submitted a planning application to Telford and Wrekin Council for the so-called ‘farm of the future’, based on the reimagined egg production facility already operating in the Netherlands and the US. Once approval has been granted, Griffiths hopes to begin building work in spring 2024, with the first eggs to go on sale in Lidl stores a year later.
The move represents a notable change of tack for the discounter, which had proclaimed in October 2022 that it would be selling only free-range eggs by the end of 2024. However, it has sought to allay any criticism that the new strategy is a watering down of its animal welfare commitments, pointing out instead that the Kipster concept has been developed in partnership with scientists and animal welfare organisations to meet the needs and instincts of chickens. Lidl’s press announcement was accompanied by a quote from Dr Tracey Jones, global director of food business at Compassion in World Farming, who said the organisation “fully supports Kipster’s innovative barn system for laying hens as it addresses both animal welfare and sustainability concerns, as well as providing a good working environment for the farmers.”
Kipster’s model has a number of notable features from both a welfare and sustainability perspective. The ‘indoor garden’ has 50% daylight levels and activities for the birds, while an ‘outdoor garden’ or veranda allows them the opportunity to roam outside. Feed in the Kipster system is made of by-products from crop and food processing, such as faulty pasta products or unwanted food from bakeries, with the resulting upcycled feed said to have a carbon footprint that’s around 40% that of conventional chicken feed. The system also takes an innovative approach to male chicks, rearing them for meat, rather than culling them.
‘Progressive’ strategy for Griffiths
Speaking to Poultry Business about the latest big investment for Griffiths Family Farms following the completion of a multi-million pound manure burner last year, director Elwyn Griffiths said it was part of a strategy to remain on the cutting edge of poultry supply. “We’ve always been a progressive company, and we changed to cage-free and barn early before it became legislation,” he says. “We have had a lot of investment in bringing new things to market, so this [Kipster] is just a progression.”
Griffiths believes the Kipster system ticks all the boxes in terms of sustainability, with its heat source pump, solar panels and recycling of food waste, and has a valuable place at a time when he believes a lot of companies’ credentials lack real depth. “It’s got heart, it’s got substance, it’s got integrity,” he says, adding that he has found Lidl to be “a very progressive company to work with”.
Describing the Kipster system as “a variation of a barn system”, Griffiths says it also gets it right from an animal welfare perspective. “There are small exercise paddocks and the modern hybrid bird in a multi-tier system is absolutely happy in its environment of being dry, clean and managed,” he adds.
Griffiths has been a critic of what he believes is a lack of government food policy, which has made it difficult for farmers to gain approval for big infrastructure projects, however he believes the new farm has what it takes to get the green light. “We’re hoping we’re in the final stages of answering all the [planning] questions and seriously hoping we can start building in the spring,” he explains. “We fully appreciate that planning is locked in scrutiny, and every single farm application is looked in detail and we’re open to question. We hope in the new year we will be able to start planning the building works and put down birds to rear.”
For Lidl, there seems to be no sense of awkwardness around going back on its free-range pledge, and it is proud of the new strategy. “When we first met with Kipster, we were instantly struck by their devotion and commitment to providing the highest welfare standards for chickens and roosters, whilst also doing right by the planet,” said chief commercial officer Peter de Roos. “At Lidl we want to give our customers the very best products at the best possible prices, which is why we’re so excited to be the first grocer to bring Kipster’s eggs to our stores across Great Britain. We would urge Telford and Wrekin Council to approve the plans to ensure that British shoppers have access to this industry-leading egg.”
Backed by science
There’s no word yet on how the system might be explained to consumers, who make decisions in split seconds and already have a number of different tiers in the egg category to contend with. But it’s clear that all parties believe the prevailing consumer headwinds make this a ripe time to be bold. Kipster founder Ruud Zanders grew up on a poultry farm and believes that the current intensive farming system is unsustainable for people and planet alike and that solutions such as his are the way forward.
Zanders says science is behind the creation of the Kipster model, with research having been done in collaboration with Wageningen University and approval gained from the likes of the Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals and Compassion in World Farming. He notes that in free-range and organic systems, when it comes to large-scale operations with 20,000 birds or more, up to 80% end up staying indoors at any time anyway, so the focus was upon creating a happy environment for them inside with the option of roaming in a smaller area outdoors should they wish.
It’s a big move by Lidl, but a supermarket that has grown as fast as it has in the UK over the past 15 years didn’t get there by playing safe. Other retailers will no doubt be watching with great interest how it is received once the eggs finally reach the shelf in 2025.
Kipster founder Ruud Zanders tells Poultry Business why he thinks the system has a big future for egg production.
How many Kipster farms are there?
In the Netherlands we have now three farms – two farms for Lidl and one for the out-of-home market, and in the United States we have four farms and the eggs are sold at the supermarket Kroger. Next year we are starting construction in France, as well as the Griffiths farm in the UK.
How did the UK collaboration come about?
Normally we always start with supermarkets. We succeeded in the Netherlands with Lidl, so of course they have contact with their stores in other countries, and Lidl GB was ultra interested in what we were doing. We talked a lot with Lidl GB and they said ‘we also want to have this system on our shelves’. We explained that our model is that we bring the concept to the country, but we don’t want to be Dutch farmers in that country, we want to collaborate with partners there. Lidl has its own suppliers and Griffiths is one of those. I think we found a good match there.
Would you say your system is better than free range and organic?
I don’t know if we are better than free range and organic but for animal welfare we are certainly not worse. The Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals has a star system – the Better Life system – and for them organic is three stars, free range is two stars, and we are also three stars. As far as I know we are the only commercial poultry farm in the world who is feeding their laying hens only with things that we [humans] cannot or do not want to eat any more, so is that a better system? If you’re looking to help feed the world, then in my opinion for sure it’s a better system.
How sustainable is it?
We have about 1,100 solar panels on our roof, so with that we are self-sufficient with energy. Normally the roosters are gassed at day one, but we are rearing them to 40 weeks and making meat from them, together with the spent hens. We use white birds and white eggs because they have a 5% lower carbon footprint than brown ones. Some 70% of your footprint depends on what you are feeding your birds, and the carbon footprint of our feed is 60-70% lower compared to traditional feeds, which is a very big part of making a carbon-neutral egg. Then of course we have some carbon, because it’s not possible to have livestock without it, so the last little bit we are doing by offsetting.
What about cost?
It’s easier if I talk about what I see in the Netherlands. Here, barn eggs in the supermarket are about €0.18-0.20, free range is about €0.28-0.32 and organic is €0.35-0.40. Our egg is €0.33, so it’s a little bit above free range but lower than organic.