Egg Standards

Natural Grocers’ Free-Range Egg Standard and Egg Quality Ranking System

Always AffordableSM, Always Raising Standards!


We believe in free chickens—cage-free, free-range and the space and with freedom to act like… well, chickens! While “cage-free” is trending and many traditional grocery stores are pledging to go cage-free within the next decade or so, we’ve been there and done that since 1955—ever since the company was started. However, we are always raising standards at Natural Grocers, so we’ve upgraded our standards, so that all of the eggs we sell are now free-range or better — think cage-free on steroids. Well, not actual steroids, as that would be bad for the hens and we would never sell products with hormones or growth promoters! Free-range the Natural Grocers way:  cage-free, outdoor space required, indoor space maximized, with the hens thriving in an environment that encourages chicken-like behaviors – nesting, dust bathing, perching, preening, and socializing. (See our Egg Ranking Overview and chart below for more details.)

We are glad that the other guys will be catching up to our old standard (cage-free) in the next decade or so, because we sincerely believe that the hens that produce our eggs deserve better than to be crammed into battery cages without enough room to turn around or extend their wings. According to the Humane Society of the United States, “Caged-laying hens are among the most intensively confined animals in agribusiness.” Additionally, they point out, “Caged hens suffer from the denial of many natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dust bathing, all important for hen welfare.”

Will cage-free eggs be all that they are cracked up to be?

For the welfare of the nation’s egg-producing hens, we applaud those who are pledging to go cage-free, even if it is going to take them nearly 10 years to get there. However, we are concerned about what this will really mean for hen welfare and egg quality. Many of those “cage-free” eggs could come from hens that are still packed into crowded barns with no outdoor access. Converting current battery-cage production methods into cage-free operations without taking into account flock size or genetics may result in higher death rates and other problems, such as reduced barn air quality. These new cage-free facilities could turn into little more than floor-to-ceiling enclosures that may allow hens some freedom of movement, but cram hundreds of thousands of hens into a single barn. We don’t think this is what consumers really have in mind when they reach for that carton of cage-free eggs. Currently, there is no USDA legal definition for “cage-free.” Although the USDA’s definition for “free-range” requires birds to have access to the outdoors, it does not state a minimum space requirement—either inside or out.

Our new free-range minimum standard requires that hens have at least 2 square feet of outdoor access per hen and enough indoor space to exhibit their natural behaviors. Cages are still not allowed and, of course, the use of growth promoting antibiotics, ionophores, or hormones is prohibited.

Why a ranking system?

While we find reading about animal husbandry practices and getting knee-deep in agricultural jargon exciting, we understand that you don’t always have time to decipher what different labels mean in terms of space, animal welfare, environmental impact, nutrient content, farmer profit, care-taker training, etc.—all those things that impact food quality. So, to make it easier on you, we have created a food quality ranking system that clearly explains how the product you are buying was produced.

This way, you can be assured that what you think you are getting in terms of quality and welfare standards matches what you are actually buying.

The best news about our free-range egg standard, and our new food quality ranking system, is that products reaching our hard-to-meet minimum standard are also winners—better for animals, better for you, and better for the environment!

Natural Grocers’ Free-Range Egg Standard & Egg Ranking Overview



Free-Range: The chickens are not only cage-free, but are provided with sufficient space to move—both indoors and outdoors—and an environment that encourages chicken-like behaviors. Of course, no non-therapeutic use of antibiotics or hormones or growth promoters is allowed.

Don’t be fooled — despite being the basic ranking, Bronze still represents one of the highest-quality products that can be bought at any grocery or health food store because our minimum standard is so high.


Everything in Bronze, plus enhanced outdoor space for the chickens to move and do what chickens do, AND they are also fed non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) feed.


Everything in Bronze and Silver, plus these eggs must be certified organic and the hens must be out on organic pasture for at least 6 hours per day. Certified organic means no GMOs in their feed or synthetic pesticides or herbicides either.

Here’s a chart to help explain the differences between our free-range or better Bronze, Silver and Gold Rankings:


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