Producers, brands get cracking on innovations that appeal to consumers.
For a food that doesn’t stand upright, the egg doesn’t seem to need much help staying on top these days. Per capita consumption of eggs is expected to hit 274.6 in 2017, up from 267.4 in 2016 and 252.9 in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Once associated with breakfast and as an ingredient in various hot dishes and baked goods, eggs are being consumed in more ways and on more days. “What we are finding is consumption across all ages is up, and not just at breakfast, but at lunch and dinner,” notes Ashley Richardson, senior director of marketing and communications for the Chicagobased American Egg Board (AEB).
Despite seasonal volatility in egg prices, the simple fresh egg — once by and large a foam container commodity at retail — is more diverse and innovative in form, packaging, merchandising and applications. “The trends in the market are reflected in the mix of products at retail,” says Kristin Herzog, chief marketing officer for San Francisco-based Happy Egg Co. USA, noting the cage-free, pastureraised, caged, liquid eggs, hard-cooked eggs and egg replacements that are part of the current market.
There is also a protein story to tell with eggs. Eggs are allnatural, highquality protein. — Ashley Richardson American Egg Board
For Goodness’ Sake
The uptick in egg consumption and accompanying product diversity can be attributed to a variety of factors in the marketplace, particularly burgeoning interest among consumers in foods deemed wholesome and healthy.
Those broad descriptors cover a lot of attributes that apply to egg products sold in supermarkets.
Consumer demand for the humane treatment of hens is one major influencer in the current egg marketplace. In recent years, hundreds of grocers and manufacturers have switched to or expanded cage-free egg offerings or production, according to the USDA, with an optimal timetable of 2020-25 for conversion.
Despite the fact that cage-free hens are currently producing about 10 percent of the total egg supply, and that cage-free eggs require considerable investments by farmers and producers to be passed on as a higher price point for consumers, sales of cage-free eggs are continuing to climb, while other product-related claims, like pasture-raised and freerange, are also emerging and expanding.
Earlier this year, Boise, Idaho-based Alberstons Cos. revealed the expansion of its commitment to carry only cage-free eggs by 2025 to include liquid eggs. “Broadening our cage-free commitment will keep the conversation going and, hopefully, continue the industry’s work in humane sourcing and corporate social responsibility,” remarked Shane Sampson, chief marketing and merchandising officer, at the time of the announcement.
Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, a Chicago-areabased specialty retailer that focuses on healthy and organic products, pledges to sell 100 percent cagefree eggs by 2022. “My customers are buying more cage-free eggs than ever before. They are ‘voting’ for
cage-free with their purchasing power,” notes Simon Cutts, director of grocery, adding that the company recently updated its own brand packaging to call out cage-free eggs.
For their part, many egg companies are zeroing in on consumers’ interest in, and knowledge of, humanely produced eggs. Nestfresh, a Denver-based producer of sustainable, local, humane and natural eggs, recently launched a line of pasture-raised eggs, including organic, non-gmo and soy-free offerings, which has earned Certified Humane Verification from Herndon, Va.-based Humane Farm Animal Care.
From her perspective of working with a brand specializing in free-range eggs, Happy Egg’s Herzog sees a parallel track in demand and education. “Alongside interest in humanely raised eggs, there is more interest in understanding certifications and claims in egg packaging,” she says, adding that consumers seem to link humane treatment and taste. “There are differences in how eggs are laid, but there is also a flavor and quality difference in humanely raised eggs.”
In addition to production-related concerns about wholesomeness, the current market for eggs consumed at breakfast and, increasingly, at other times of the day, is shaped by interest in foods that are naturally high in protein. According to the Washington, D.c.-based International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC), more than two-thirds (64 percent) of consumers say that they’re trying to consume more protein, compared with 54 percent in 2015.
“Eggs are already a household staple — Nielsen data shows household penetration is at 94 percent — but there is also a protein story to tell with eggs,” asserts AEB’S Richardson. “Eggs are all-natural, high-quality protein.”
In contrast to dietary concerns about eggs in the 1980s and into the ‘90s, today’s consumers recognize their benefits. “Eggs, along with dairy and meat items in the refrigerated case, are well positioned to capitalize on these trends,” says Brandy Gamoning, marketing manager at Nestfresh “Featuring a single ingredient or a short list of whole-food ingredients, these items are seen as inherently natural and an easy step to cleaning up and simplifying diets while providing protein.”
Beyond protein, eggs are rich in other nutrients — some more than others. Eggland’s Best brand claims that its eggs provide 10 times more vitamin E, more than double the amount of vitamin B12, six times more vitamin D, double the omega-3 and more lutein, among other nutrients. “The extra nutrients in our eggs come from special feed given to our hens,” explains Dave Holdsworth, VP, marketing at the Malvern, Pa.-based company, citing the hens’ all-vegetarian diet comprising healthy grains, canola oil, and a special supplement of rice bran, alfalfa, sea kelp and vitamin A.
Health-and-wellness concerns are spurring innovation in various types of egg replacements and alternatives as well. “In addition to the allergy/ sensitivity community, we have seen considerable growth in the number of vegans and plant-based consumers, which has reflected positively in the demand for more options and improved alternatives,” says Katherine Franklin, director of marketing for Canoga Park, Calif.-based Follow Your Heart, which offers a pourable liquid egg replacement called Veganegg.
Meanwhile, given people’s penchant for all-day snacking, the ready-to-eat hard-cooked egg segment is worth watching within the overall egg category. “Although only hard-boiled eggs are overall still a small portion of the market, we are starting to see large growth,” says Richardson. “We’re encouraged by that, especially with consumers who want what they want when they want it.”
“Further changing the way consumers eat, snacking has overtaken meals altogether,” agrees Gamoning, adding that Nestfresh now offers a variety of hard-cooked eggs, including organic and cage-free SKUS.
At Eggland’s Best, Holdsworth also points to the spike in demand for convenience foods, which has fueled interest in the company’s hard-cooked and peeled-egg products. Eggland’s Best introduced organic hard-cooked peeled eggs earlier this year.
In addition to the allergy/ sensitivity community, we have seen considerable growth in the number of vegans and plant-based consumers, which has reflected positively in the demand for more options and improved alternatives. — Katherine Franklin Follow Your Heart