UPDATE 1-Taco Bell to switch to cage-free eggs after 2016, ahead of rivals
(Adds details on rivals and context on egg industry)
By Lisa Baertlein
LOS ANGELES Nov 16 (Reuters) - Taco Bell said on Monday its more than 6,000 U.S. fast-food restaurants would stop using eggs laid by caged hens by Jan. 1, 2017, years ahead of the deadlines set by its bigger rivals.
The announcement came amid mounting pressure on Taco Bell to remove artificial ingredients, to source products from more humanely raised animals and to match Chick-fil-A, McDonald's Corp, Subway and other rivals' commitments to sourcing meat raised with fewer antibiotics.
McDonald's said in September its 16,000 U.S. and Canadian restaurants would switch to cage-free eggs within 10 years.
The Golden Arches uses about 2 billion eggs each year in the United States, where it dominates breakfast. Analysts estimate that breakfast accounts for about 25 percent of McDonald's domestic sales and roughly 40 percent of profit.
Taco Bell, which recently said that breakfast accounted for 6 percent of the chain's sales mix, uses the equivalent of 13 million eggs each year.
McDonald's cage-free commitment demands far greater change in the North American egg industry that is rebuilding flocks after the worst bird flu outbreak in U.S. history. For example, its recently launched all-day breakfast program sent egg prices higher.
Burger King, also a small player in the breakfast category, has committed to going 100 percent cage-free for its eggs by 2017. Continued...