All eggs at BaxterStorey, Caterlink and Holroyd Howe will be free range from 4 October, announced parent company Westbury Street Holdings (WSH) today.
The three food service firms, which between them currently use 7.5m eggs a year across 800 sites, will source all eggs from the independent family owned Staveley's Eggs farm in Chorley, Lancashire.
The move, contrary to standard industry practice, signifies a public commitment to procure only fresh eggs that exceed current regulations for animal husbandry and precedes new EU legislation scheduled to come into force in 2012 banning the production of eggs using chickens kept in battery cages.
The switch to free-range eggs comes after a report by consumer research group Mintel in May found that animal welfare tops the list of Britain's food concerns, with 40% of Britons worried about the issue.
Alastair Storey, chief executive at WSH, said: "These consumers are the same people who go to work in offices and who study at schools and colleges every day. As the caterer we have a duty to respond to their concerns and provide them with meals that address their food choices."
Steve McIvor, director of food business at Compassion in World Farming, welcomed the move. "It is very positive to see a company which plays such an important part in feeding the UK population taking the welfare of laying hens so seriously by ensuring that the eggs they serve are free range.
"Their move will benefit 27,000 hens per year and we hope to see other companies following from their lead," he added.
Last year, the companies launched a new supply chain to ensure all of its fresh meat is sourced from UK farms.
<span class="Á"noindexÁ"">By Janie Stamford
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