Monday, September 14, 2009

Soul Food Farm eggs are overpriced

The subject line says it all.

This morning my wife and I did a taste-test comparison between Soul Food Farm eggs ($7.50 per dozen) and Rock Island brown eggs ($2.50 per dozen). She fried them identically so I could taste blind.

There was really no hesitation -- the Rock Island eggs were far more flavorful. It wasn't even close. I eat a lot of fried eggs lately, and I found the Soul Food Farm eggs to be run of the mill for organically-fed chicken eggs.

We repeated this test with consistent notes. The Soul Food Farm eggs vary as much in flavor as in shell color, but their peak isn't higher than Rock Island's.

I'm sorry that Soul Food Farm had a fire, and I know the fooderati from my neighborhood are all holding benefits for them. They must be good people.

But their eggs are simply not worth what they're charging.

To me, Soul Food Farm's prices are insulting. The 2nd most expensive dozen eggs I've seen in San Francisco were $5, at the Alemany farmer's market. Soul Food Farm charges 50 percent more than the next highest-priced product. And for what? There are other organically-fed, free-range chicken eggs available at less than $5 per dozen, so they can't claim it's not possible.

I don't mind paying a premium for a better product. And I don't mind paying a premium for charity, to help Soul Food's owners rebuild their farm. But let's not confuse the two.


Amy Sherman said...

I admire your willingness to tell the truth. When I was growing up we sold the eggs from our hens for $1 a dozen. These days I have a hard time with anything over $4 a dozen. I suppose that makes me sound like one of those old geezers who claims to have trudged five miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways.

Marc said...

I doubt that Soul Food is getting rich on their eggs. It is not cheap to raise chickens, especially when using organic feed and having them be fully free range -- in open pastures instead of massive sheds. When I went on a tour of Eatwell farm near Vacaville (my blog report is here), head farmer Nigel Walker claimed that he actually loses money on his certified organic eggs, even after charging a relatively high price ($6 or $7 per dozen, I think). Organic feed is expensive (about 60% of the overall expenses for Eatwell), labor has its costs, and so on. But if the eggs are money losers, why does he keep them? The hens provide valuable services for the farm: field clearing and fertilization.

Also, do you know how the Rock Island hens are treated? Do they have open pasture in which to search for bugs, take dust baths, and otherwise 'be chickens'? At Soul Food that's the default and many people are willing to pay extra for improved animal welfare. At Rock Island, in contrast, they are housed in huge sheds, as a satellite photo at the Ethicurean shows. Better than cages, to be sure, but not fully free range. Having more chickens per square meter improves the bottom line, allowing a lower price.

There's also the economy of scale to be considered. Rock Island is part of the Petaluma Farms empire, which controls Uncle Eddie’s, Judy’s, and Gold Circle, along with Rock Island. That means that they buy feed in huge quantities, getting great volume discounts. Soul Food has a far smaller number of chickens and therefore probably pays more per bird for feed. And then there is distribution. Petaluma Farms has a sophisticated logistical network that serves their many grocery customers, using fuel efficient trucks and wasting little time. Soul Food is one or two people.

W. Blake Gray said...

Hi Marc, thanks for your comments.

They're all fair points. That said, Bi-Rite has an excellent chart of the various chicken-treatment practices of different egg brands, and the next-most-expensive brand, Glaum Egg Ranch, matches Soul Food Farms in every category and costs $4.50 per dozen.

I am curious about your opinion of my central premise -- Soul Food Farm eggs don't taste any better than those of the Petaluma Farms empire (I buy some of their other brands as well).

Have you done a taste test?

Anita (Married... with dinner) said...

Talk about kicking someone when they're down... sheesh.

I agree 100% with everything Marc's said, but I have a few additions:

I think your taste comparison is a red herring, although I happen to disagree with you. I vastly prefer the taste of pastured eggs (SFFs in particular, but also Marin Sun Farms and Eatwell) to any of the factory brands.

Glaum's -- like Rock Island, Judy's Family Farm, and a dozen or so other cute-sounding brands -- a part of the mega-factory system at Petaluma. I used to buy all of the Petaluma brands at the Ferry Plaza stand, and wondered why they were so cheap
Big clue: They're cheap because they're treating their animals like machines.

Take a good look at that Ethicurean photo in Marc's comment, and then take a look at the photos on the Soul Food site, or Marc's photos of Eatwell, or my photos of Marin Sun Farms egg operations, and tell me you think you're comparing apples to oranges.

If you're really content with knowing you're putting money in the pockets of the industrial mega-complex at Petaluma -- and running down the business of a devastated family farmer at the same time -- what a heartless jerk you must be.

SF Locavore said...

If you haven't seen eggs priced higher than $5 a dozen, you aren't looking very hard. $7 to $8 is the going rate for farm eggs, both at the Ferry Building farmers' market and at places like Rainbow co-op.

It's not that these eggs are "overpriced" (because they actually reflect the true cost of humanely raised food) but that factory farmed eggs are artifically cheap because of grain subsidies and the economies of scale that enormous farms are able to achieve. When you don't give a crap about animal welfare, it's easy to make a cheaper product.

As much as I disagree with your claim that pastured eggs aren't better tasting, you have a right to your preference. but I think it's pretty crappy behavior that you chose this moment in time to express your opinion, given all that the Soul Food people have already endured this month.

W. Blake Gray said...

I'll stipulate to being a heartless jerk if that allows me to call it as I taste it.

Look, I'm just a guy. Soul Food Farms has had support from so many food professionals in San Francisco, and that's exactly what piqued my interest. I kept reading about how great they are -- which I don't doubt -- but more to the point, how great their eggs are. So I couldn't wait to try them.

So, back to my first paragraph here. Yep, that's me, heartless jerk.

PF said...

You probably like battery eggs better because it's what you're used to- hens and eggs fed with commercial feed (made from chicken parts and blood from the slaughtering process along with fish meal) do taste different. Some of the Petaluma brands are given vegetarian feed.

Additionally, you miss the point about Koefed's chickens- they're pastured. So they literally eat like birds.

I don't think you're a jerk. Just uninformed about the economics of what you're eating.

You might try Marin Sum Farms eggs, which I think are even better, probably because I'm Italian and like the deep yellow yolk. On the other hand, I refuse to buy them because David (MS's owner) is a complete ass and I refuse to give him a penny. And Eatwell's are quite splendid as well.