When it comes to eggs, free range may be the better choice for more than ethical reasons.
In a paper published this week in the international journal Anthrozoös, researchers from the University of Adelaide School of Humanities discovered the taste of free range sits better with consumers.
The paper’s lead author Dr Heather Bray said they were surprised to discover when interviewing people that food purchasing choices were influenced more-so by the perceived quality of the egg.
"People who said they bought free-range eggs readily told us that they thought the eggs were of better quality, more nutritious and safer to eat," Dr Bray said.
"Consumers saw free-range as more 'natural' for the chickens – so the eggs were 'naturally' better.
This is perhaps one of the reasons why the hens at Rohde Clare Valley Free Range Eggs have a maximum of 1500 hens per hectare – making them an accredited free range farm.
The farm is also externally audited by the RSPCA under the Approved Farming Scheme – which puts chicken welfare and their behavioural and physical needs first.
Office administrator at Rohde’s Mel Mcevoy said the farm’s reasoning behind the free range treatment of the hens is mostly ethical but the she was unsure if it effected the taste.
“We believe that we want the bird to be able to go outside and have a nice and happy lifestyle more than living in a cage or in a barn where they still don’t get to access outside,” she said.
All production is also completed on location, perhaps reinforcing the perception of a safeter and higher quality egg from a consumer standpoint.
“We try and keep our eggs very fresh so when they go out to our customers they are still very high quality eggs,” Ms Mcevoy said.
“They (our customers) all say we do have a good quality egg so obviously we get long term customers for that reason.”
More research still needs to be done to best understand consumer motivations behind purchasing products with ethical production claims.
"Taste and quality are strong motivations for purchasing and may be part of the reason why people are prepared to pay a higher price," Dr Bray said.
"These findings are in many ways unexpected, because we thought that the welfare of chickens would be the first reason people would give for purchasing free-range eggs."
The study was funded by the Australian Research Council and had not received funding from industry groups.