Dutch supermarkets offer chicken meat that is more sustainable without any anticompetitive agreements
Dutch supermarkets nowadays offer a lot more chicken-meat varieties where the chickens have lived better lives. Virtually all of the chicken meat varieties currently on offer have been produced under animal-friendlier conditions than what the failed joint initiative of producers and retailers, called the ‘Chicken of Tomorrow’, aimed to achieve. This has been revealed by a study conducted by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) into the diversity and price of the range of chicken meat on offer in Dutch supermarkets.
Restrictions of competition may be necessary for paving the way for sustainable products. In that context, ACM in July presented its Guidelines on Sustainability Agreements. So, competition among businesses can also help make production more sustainable.
In 2013, producers and retailers wanted to make arrangements in order to improve the welfare of chickens. This initiative was dubbed the ‘Chicken of Tomorrow’. These arrangements restricted competition, and, in a nutshell, were ‘a bad deal for chickens and consumers,’ according to ACM. Consumers would have paid more for a marginal improvement in chicken welfare. After ACM’s negative assessment, the planned collaboration was shelved.
Martijn Snoep, Chairman of the Board of ACM, explains: “This study shows that supermarkets and businesses have been perfectly able to switch of their own accord to animal-friendlier alternatives to the faster-growing chicken breeds that were previously sold in Dutch supermarkets. In that transition, independent certification labels in which consumers have confidence played a significant role, for example the ‘Better Life Label’ (BLK). ACM encourages the use of those sorts of labels in order to make the food production chain more sustainable.”
ACM’s study also reveals that the different market participants have launched their own initiatives. Today, more sustainable and animal-friendly chicken meat is offered in supermarkets than ever before, and this trend continues to develop in a positive direction. The faster-growing chicken breeds have practically disappeared from the shelves. Chicken welfare standards of the chicken meat sold in Dutch supermarkets are currently higher than the planned standards of the ‘Chicken of Tomorrow’. Furthermore, the market share of chicken meat with independent certification labels has almost doubled between 2014 and 2018.
Room for sustainability arrangements
The developments following ACM’s assessment of the ‘Chicken of Tomorrow’ show that reduced competition among businesses is not always necessary for making the production process more sustainable. Businesses are also able to make their services and products more sustainable, even when they are competing with each other (if necessary, with new standards imposed by an independent label). In fact, competition can also boost sustainability instead of acting as an obstacle, as is sometimes assumed.
However, a restriction of competition can indeed be necessary for achieving sustainability objectives. That is why ACM in July presented its Guidelines on Sustainability Agreements. In these guidelines, ACM explains under what circumstances collaborations do not restrict competition, for example, arrangements to create an independent label together. The guidelines also explain under what circumstances a restriction of competition can be allowed after all. One of the key criteria is that arrangements between businesses are genuinely necessary for achieving the sustainability objectives, and that the benefits outweigh the costs.