Caged layer hens©Best Shot Factory/Rex Shutterstock

Major US egg producer Rembrandt Foods has announced it is to move towards cage-free production, which will further accelerate the growth of the free-range sector.

The decision by Rembrandt, which is the third largest US egg  producer, comes a month after McDonald’s made a similar commitment to use cage-free eggs only in the US and Canada.

Burger King, Kellogg’s and large institutional food suppliers Sodexo and Aramark have all recently announced cage-free phase-ins over the next five to 10 years.

See also: McDonald’s to phase out cage-produced eggs

Rembrandt, which currently has cage-free housing for about 15% of its nearly 15 million hens at three farms in Iowa and Minnesota, said the company was responding to changing consumer and retailer demands.

President Dave Rettig said the company had invested almost exclusively in cage-free egg production houses over the past five years.

“With the unprecedented number of top food companies announcing timelines to switch exclusively to cage-free eggs, we are uniquely positioned for the future,” he said.

Rembrandt, which overwhelmingly produces for the liquid or processed egg markets, was badly hit by this year’s avian influenza outbreak, losing 5.5 million birds at one of its Iowa farms, as well as 2 million birds at Renville, Minnesota.

It is not planning to restock until the end of the year.

While some of its hen housing can be converted to cage-free, the company told the Minnesota Star and Tribune that it planned to announce a major new cage-free egg farm by the end of the year that may cost more than $100m.

Jonathan Spurway, Rembrandt’s marketing vice-president, said the company was excited to partner with restaurant chains, food manufacturers and foodservice providers to help them meet cage-free commitments: “With a reasonable timeline, we can meet any demand, and we’re eager to move our clients into the cage-free future.”

Josh Balk, senior food policy director at the US Humane Society, said Rembrandt was following the shift in consumer patterns: “They have taken a stand that spreads across the entire food system.”