Walmart hops on the cage-free egg bandwagon, trailing its retail peers

Kathleen McLaughlin, Walmart's chief sustainability officer

Walmart ($WMT) is jumping on the cage-free egg bandwagon, months after its retail peers joined the cause and animal rights activists pushed for the changes.

The company, which is America's biggest food seller, said that its U.S. Walmart and Sam's Club stores would switch to a 100% cage-free supply chain by 2025. The move echoes those made by the company's rivals, including supermarket giants Kroger ($KR) and Supervalu ($SVU).

"Our customers and associates count on Walmart and Sam's Club to deliver on affordability and quality, while at the same time offering transparency into how their food is grown and raised. Our commitment to transition to a cage-free egg supply chain recognizes that expectation and represents another step we are taking to improve transparency for food we sell in our U.S. stores and clubs," Walmart Chief Sustainability Officer Kathleen McLaughlin said in a statement.

Walmart outlined some of the steps it will take to reach its goal. The company will transition to cage-free eggs "based on available supply, affordability and customer demand," it said in a statement. The retail titan will also require all of its shell egg suppliers to be certified and fully complaint with animal husbandry guidelines, and it will encourage them to use best practices to ensure every hen's health and welfare.

The company has sold cage-free eggs at its stores since 2001, but it trails its competitors in rolling out an entirely cage-free egg product line. Fast food chain McDonald's ($MCD) said it would make the switch in September, which spurred other retailers and food companies to roll out similar plans.

In November, Taco Bell announced that it would offer only cage-free eggs at its more than 6,000 U.S. restaurants by the end of 2016. And in December, cruise company Carnival ($CCL) said that all of its ships will serve cage-free eggs by 2025.

Animal rights activists are celebrating Walmart's decision. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) said that it "turned the corner" in its fight against battery cages when McDonald's decided to go cage-free in September. "But today, that debate ends and the trajectory is clear," Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle said in a blog post. "The era of confining hens in cages in America's food system is officially sunsetting."

- read Walmart's statement
- here's the Humane Society's post