Avian flu outbreak has not dented consumer confidence in eggs, reveals American Egg Board survey

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Avian flu outbreak has not dented consumer confidence in eggs, AEB

Related tags Eggs

Devastating though the latest outbreak of Avian flu has been to the US egg industry, it does not appear to have dented consumer confidence in eggs, says the American Egg Board.

While this may be in part because many consumers are blissfully unaware of the devastation it has wrought, it also reflects the fact that those who are aware know that it is not a food safety issue, thanks to responsible reporting from the media, said Kevin Burkum, AEB senior vice president of marketing.

He told FoodNavigator-USA: “We ran online surveys of 1,000 Americans on April 29 and May 14 and in both surveys two thirds said they had not noticed any recent news on avian flu; more than three quarters said that it wouldn’t affect their egg consumption; and 88-89% agreed that eggs are safe to eat – the same percentage that thought so before the outbreak."

A third survey had been planned for June, but has been put on ice for the time being as there have been no new avian flu outbreaks in egg laying hens since May 29.

While there is no room for complacency, he said: “We don’t appear at this point to have a major consumer crisis on our hands.”

There’s no doubt that eggs have been on a roll, especially for breakfast

While there have been reports of some retailers restricting the number of eggs consumers can buy in stores, most of the damage had been done to the egg products market (liquid, frozen, powdered egg), he said: “No one is predicting widespread shortages of shell eggs at retail.”

As for consumer interest in eggs, it had never been higher, he claimed, with USDA data showing per capita consumption at a 30-year high, with strong rises in the past two years (Americans ate almost nine more eggs per person per year in 2014 than they did in 2012), with eggs benefiting from the protein craze and picking up some of the slack at breakfast as ready-to-eat cereal consumption continues to decline.

 “There’s no doubt that eggs have been on a roll, especially for breakfast,”​ he added.

Eggs are a clean label ingredient

But could the latest crisis push many manufacturers to ditch – or at least partially replace – eggs in recipes for good, as some firms such as Hampton Creek​ have claimed?

John Howeth, Senior VP, Foodservice & Egg Product Marketing at the AEB said that in the short term egg replacers may “serve as a stopgap​”.

But even if you set aside nutritional factors [eggs are a good source of choline​, vitamin D and other nutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin] and the fact that replacing any ingredient is a hassle, especially in packaged goods, many manufacturers are reluctant to replace eggs chiefly because alternatives rarely look as ‘clean’ on a label, and cannot precisely match eggs’ functionality, despite recent advances, he claimed.

“I’d say clean label is the number one reasonmanufacturers don’t like replacing eggs​ and functionality is number two.”

As for what is happening in stores, consumers will accept higher prices up to a point as eggs remain a cheap source of protein compared to say, meat, he said. However, it’s too early to say how things will pan out at this stage as there haven’t – yet - been noticeable rises in the price of products containing eggs, he said.

“It depends on how much egg is in the product, so it may impact mayo more than say cookies.”

As for the foodservice industry, some firms had temporarily taken some slower moving lines containing egg off menus or reduced the time allocated to ‘breakfast’ products, he said. However, firms are generally reluctant to bump up prices to consumers if at all possible.

According to United Egg Producers, a co-op claiming to be responsible for 95% of the nation's egg-laying hens, 35 million egg layers had been impacted since April 20, 2015, of which 30 million were dedicated to the egg products industry, impacting around 30% of the egg product supply. Read more HERE​.


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