A recent investigation has revealed that millions of free range eggs sold at Countdown before this year were likely to have been laid by caged hens. Packaged as ‘Palace Poultry’ brand free range eggs laid at a South Auckland farm, the investigation uncovered that, in fact, a large quantity are from caged egg suppliers.

At up to $3 cheaper per dozen, the pale yellow rustic-style packaged cartons are a popular buy for the cost-conscious consumer looking to make an ethical choice. Stocked in about 70 Countdown stores in the Upper North Island, the small print on the Palace Poultry cartons says the eggs are “produced, graded and distributed by Ararimu Free Range poultry.”

However, the investigation found more than half the eggs were not produced at the Palace Poultry farm in Ararimu. Instead, it appears Countdown customers have been buying caged eggs instead. The investigation discovered that the company did not have enough hens to lay as many free range eggs as it was selling and purchased the shortfall from Eco Foods Ltd in nearby Bombay. But, surveillance photos and information from Eco Foods staff show that the eggs that were being collected were caged eggs.

An average of 13,000 dozen size 7 Palace Poultry eggs were sold at Countdown stores each week in the two years to May (according to official Aztec Countdown scan data). Based on this volume, Palace Poultry would have earned an extra $14,000 per week. The investigation team confirmed the SFO were looking into the case.