By late 2018, more than 200 stores were selling respeggt eggs. The figure had risen to 300 by the spring of 2019.
The SELEGGT system
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Innovation builds reputation. REWE Group is joining forces with basic scientific researchers in the field of the gender identification of eggs in order to promote change in the sector. This work has led to the establishment of a joint venture.
Is it luck, inspiration or just basic scientific research? Those who study innovation disagree on how good ideas come about. But they all know: It takes hard work, perseverance and a healthy portion of risk appetite to turn an ingenious idea into a marketable product. It may start with a spontaneous idea. But the real value of that idea usually shows through when it comes to implementation.
And this is how it happened with the idea of developing a process for identifying the sex of chicks while still in the egg. The procedure needed to be reliable and practicable as early as possible before the hatching date. Already in the mid-1990s, veterinarians at universities and private research institutions worldwide began testing methods to determine on the 21st day after laying, whether an egg contained a male or female chick. Why would they want to do that? If you know the sex before the hatching date, eggs with male chicks can be picked out early and processed into a high-quality feed supplement, for instance. This means that no chick has to be slaughtered on its first day of life because it doesn’t lay eggs and is uneconomical to raise – a practise that occurs about 45 million times a year in Germany alone.
But how can the gender of an unhatched egg be determined? Professor Almuth Einspanier, a veterinarian at the University of Leipzig’s Veterinary Medicine Institute of Physiological Chemistry, has been developing her own approach since 2011: endocrinological sex identification. “We've proven that the allantois fluid of a female egg contains estrone sulphate, a female sex hormone. If we take a tiny amount of this fluid and place it on a marker that reacts to estrone sulphate, we know whether a male or female chick is developing inside the egg,” she says.
It sounds like a simple, but ingenious idea. The challenge is to develop the process in detail so that practical solutions arise. This includes, for instance, irrefutable evidence that the non-evasive removal of liquid has no negative effect on the chick’s development. Support for this effort came from researchers at the University of Osnabrück. They compared hens that had gone through the endocrinological process with animals from conventional hatching eggs, and found no development or performance differences.
The joint venture SELEGGT GmbH aims to refine gender identification methods
Early on, REWE Group recognised the importance of the basic research being carried out at the University of Leipzig, work that received several million euros in funding from the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. The first contact with the Veterinary Medicine Institute of Physiological Chemistry came in 2013. “From the start, we thought the endocrinological process was well suited for widespread use,” said Dr Ludger Breloh, Head of Strategy & Innovation at REWE Group. Last year, REWE Group came together with leading Dutch hatchery technology company HatchTech to form a joint venture in cooperation with the University of Leipzig: SELEGGT GmbH. The company intends to refine methods of gender identification in eggs so that they can be used in any hatchery, and end, as quickly as possible, the culling of millions of male chicks.
Improved animal welfare through a venture capital project involving three very different partners – giving a very special meaning to the concept of cooperation: What cannot be achieved alone can be done by many – for the benefit of all.
“We want to support university research even more strongly in the future. It will give us a good opportunity to develop innovations even earlier and be the first to bring new products to the market.”Ludger Breloh, Head of Strategy & Innovation at REWE Group
Innovation attracts attention. It builds reputation. And, ideally, it brings business success. So there are good reasons for tracking down trends and new developments. A product’s career generally starts with a utopian-sounding idea. Only much later does it usually become apparent whether it will lead to a marketable product. If you want to be innovative you have to be open to new ideas, swim against the current now and then, and persevere. Above all, you have to be well connected, so you get access to new ideas early on. Such as gender identification in eggs, which came about through close contact and regular exchanges with scientific researchers. Universities are frequently a rich source of innovation. REWE Group has used this approach, particularly in egg production, to initiate several advances that are now industry standards and have improved animal welfare. One example is a joint project with the University of Osnabrück and the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover. Working with an egg supplier, participants developed solutions to end the painful practise of trimming the beaks of laying hens. As a result, REWE Group has required all suppliers of store-brand products to keep hens with long beaks. Other retailers are following this example. REWE Group is also working closely with the University of Osnabrück on the subject of raising cockerels. With the help of scientists, the company is testing in leased stalls conditions under which male chicks can be fattened to avoid being slaughtered immediately after hatching.
SELEGGT represents the first time REWE Group has entered into a risk sharing joint venture partnership – without knowing for certain whether the joint project would actually pay off. It's a lighthouse project that can definitely be copied. “We want to support university research even more strongly in the future. It will give us a good opportunity to develop innovations even earlier and be the first to bring new products to the market,” says Ludger Breloh. There are many ways we can support scientific projects, also outside the poultry industry. One of them is the search for scalable, industrial solutions for the breeding and preparation of insects for use as food. Another is circulation projects in aquaculture. It is entirely possible that a close partnership with a university will result in a joint venture like SELEGGT. But this is not a must. What is important is to jointly develop an innovation that will reinforce REWE Group’s role as a driving force for sustainable products and, ideally, improve animal welfare across the entire market.
SELEGGT processes lead to respeggt eggs – eggs without chick culling
The first respeggt eggs to do away with chick culling went on sale in autumn 2018, and are now available in more than 300 REWE and PENNY stores in the Berlin metropolitan region. The eggs themselves are stamped “respeggt” and there is a seal on the carton so that customers can see that the “respeggt” carton contains “respeggt” eggs. At the end of 2018, more than 200 stores were selling respeggt eggs. The total had risen to more than 300 stores in spring 2019. The eggs should be available in all PENNY and REWE stores in Germany by the end of 2019.
For more information on respeggt, please visit: www.respeggt.com/en/.