According to the American Egg Board, the egg industry has added nearly four eggs per person per year between 2011 and 2013, with per capita consumption rising from 247.9 in 2011 to 251.3 in 2013. It is also estimated to rise significantly this year to 257.9 in 2014.
(To put this in context, consumption peaked in 2006 at around 258.1 then slumped for around five years before picking up again in 2012.)
Meanwhile, total egg production in the US in August 2014 was 3% higher than it was in August 2013 (well ahead of population growth, which is at less than 1%).
Consumers are much more positive about eggs than they were 5-10 years ago
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA at the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) in Atlanta this week, Mitch Kanter, Ph.D, executive director at the Egg Nutrition Center, said that eggs are benefiting from the protein craze and have picked up some of the slack at breakfast as ready-to-eat cereal consumption continues to decline.
“It’s a good time to be in eggs; protein is where there is a big opportunity right now as refined carbohydrates are getting beaten up. Eggs are a great source of natural protein and nutrition for a small amount of calories.
“I think consumers are also much more positive about eggs than they were 5-10 years ago as the message is getting across that dietary cholesterol [of which eggs are a source] and serum cholesterol are two different things.”
Meanwhile, a meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal last year concluded that higher consumption of eggs is not associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease or stroke.
Higher consumption of eggs is not associated with increased risk of CHD or stroke
Eggs are also an important source of choline, vitamin D and other nutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin - a fact that is often ignored in the discussion about egg replacers, he claimed.
“I think there has been a lot of excitement generated by companies such as Hampton Creek Foods*, but nutrition can sometimes get overlooked.”
And while the ingredients in egg replacers vary, eggs have an advantage over many of them in the clean label stakes in that consumers also want simple ingredients that they recognize on food labels, said Dr Kanter. And they don’t get much simpler than eggs.
What is happening to egg prices?
Looking at prices, Rick Brown, SVP at Urner Barry, which tracks egg industry data (among other things), said eggs prices have been on an upward trajectory in recent years in part driven by higher grain prices.
The wholesale price of 12 large whole eggs was $1.19 in 2011, $1.22 in 2012, $1.28 in 2013 and $1.40 in 2014, while dried egg white prices hit an all-time higher earlier this year as more firms introduced egg white sandwiches promising more protein with fewer calories.
However, grain prices have come down, while production has also increased, and dried egg white prices have started dropping again, he said.
“Pricing is ultimately down to supply and demand, so like any commodity, when prices keep going up, people see a market opportunity and production increases, and that brings prices down again; it’s a constant boom and bust cycle. Other factors are also at play including competing protein prices. Beef and pork prices are high, so eggs look more attractive in comparison.”
But can the egg industry just turn on production like a tap? “It’s not that easy,” said Brown, who noted that “it is more difficult today to obtain building permits, and there are concerns about the costs of production in future as interest in animal welfare grows. Companies don’t want to invest money in production processes that could be phased out.”
Conventional battery cages have recently been phased out in the EU, while Proposition 2 in California, which comes into force in January 2015, requires that egg-laying hens are confined only in ways that allow them to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely, he said.
“People are asking how will my products be regulated in future and that can make them reluctant to expand.”
Eggland’s Best: The specialty egg market is growing like crazy
Talking to FoodNavigator-USA at FNCE this week, Roger Koman, new media director at egg producer Eggland’s Best, said demand for organic and cage free eggs was growing but that these segments still represented a relatively small part of the market [in May 2014 organic and cage-free shell egg production accounted for 5.7% of the current US table egg layer flock, according to USDA].
However, ‘specialty’ eggs of all kinds are growing “like crazy”, he said.
“Our eggs come from hens that are fed a vegetarian diet so they get no animal fat or animal by-products, and no recycled or processed food. Our feed contains flaxseed, canola oil, rice bran, alfalfa meal, kelp, and Vitamin E."
As a result, Eggland's Best eggs contain 25% less saturated fat, twice as much omega-3 (in the form of ALA), 10 times more Vitamin E, four times the vitamin D, 38% more lutein and more than twice the iodine of a standard egg, he claimed.
* In a recent interview with us, Hampton Creek Foods founder Josh Tetrick said he was aware that eggs had valuable nutrients and clean label credentials, and that he's not anti-egg, but anti industrialized egg production.
He said: “It’s not that eggs are bad, it’s the industrial scale production of them is the problem. I would encourage people to buy free range eggs. But they are significantly more expensive, and if we want to feed 9.3bn people by 2050, switching to free range eggs is not the answer to the problem.”