As with other animal produce, egg prices have increased in the past year as a result of higher costs for grain. This presents food formulators with a quandary. Eggs are important to provide structure and texture in a number of food categories - yet the higher costs are putting pressure on their margins. While food manufacturers can pass on some of the costs, this is not possible for all. Some firms are taking a long hard look at formulations, to see whether they can use cheaper, alternative ingredients to achieve the same results. In the case of eggs, Tucson, Arizona-based Gum Technologies is stepping up to the plate with the introduction of its Cayote Brand line of egg replacers. The company has developed three blends which it says can mean a reduction or elimination of eggs without compromising the sensory properties of the finished product, according to R&D chef Sarah Martin. "All of the gum blends in Coyote Brand's Egg Replacer line are used at very low percentages which can further help cut product costs and increase your profit margin," Martin added. Custard, Dough, Baker's The blend intended for use in custards consists of carageenan and locust bean gum. It can be used to replace up to 100 per cent of custard in instant custards for use in crème caramels and flans at a usage level of 0.25 to 0.50 percent, or as an extender in quickes and frittatas. In 'traditional' products the usage level ranges from 0.10 to 0.40 percent, and in 'savory' products from 0.10 to 0.50 percent. The company says it can avoid the problem of syneresis, or coagulation. The Dough Egg Replacer, meanwhile, for use in breads and sweet doughs, is a blend of konjac and soy lecithin, and can replace up to 100 percent of egg at a usage level of 0.10 to 0.40 percent. Finally, the Baker's Egg Replacer mixes xanthan, guar and soy lecithin, and is said to "improve texture, cell structure and increase uniformity" in cakes and muffins and in cookies. Usage levels for cakes and muffins range from 0.10 to 0.50 percent, while the upper usage for cookies is 0.30 percent. Egg prices Feed grains such as corn and soybeans make up around 50 per cent of the cost of producing a raw egg, but a combination of poor harvests and demand for grains from biofuels mean egg farmers are reporting a 25 per cent increase in grain costs per dozen eggs - from 15 cents to 20 cents. According to the USDA, the average price of a dozen eggs at wholesale in New York n the first quarter of 2007 was $1.05; the department's economists are predicting that the price for the same period of this year will average at $1.60.