During the peak of the Avian Flu crisis in the first half of 2015, more than 35 million egg laying hens were destroyed – impacting about 30% of the egg product supply in the US and prompting many manufacturers that use eggs to reformulate their products with replacers so that they could continue to meet consumer demand.
While the egg supply has been restored, not all buyers have returned, acknowledged Shelly McKee, a technical advisor for The American Egg Board. She explained to FoodNavigator-USA at IFT in Chicago in late July that some manufacturers that reformulated products with egg replacers have not yet come back to real eggs for fear of another shortage or because they invested heavily in reformulating their products with egg replacers last year.
However, she reassured manufacturers that the egg industry now has new biosecurity safeguards in place to prevent another outbreak and egg shortage of the size experienced last year. Likewise, she said, the US is now able to access eggs from more countries to meet demand if the domestic supply does suffer a similar set back.
To further convince manufacturers that switching back to eggs is in their best interest, The American Egg Board funded research by the independent firm CuliNex, LLC, to compare the overall performance of a variety of egg replacers to real eggs and to explore the potential impact of quality changes in the finished product on long-term sales.
The CuliNex team of researchers followed standard industry practices and the scientific method to analyze the behavior of egg ingredients and replacers, including blends of starch, soy, fiber, whey, wheat and algae in eight applications including yellow-cake, sponge cake and cheesecake.
The research team closely followed the directions of the egg replacement manufacturers for usage levels and processes and then analyzed the batter specific gravity, color, product height and other critical points. In addition, they compared the finished product mouthfeel, texture and taste.
“Overall, the conclusions are that it’s difficult to replace eggs. It takes a lot of work and formulation and thinking and time to really predict using an egg replacer because you’re trying to mimic the functionality of an egg, which is very complex,” said Lesley Werblin, a culinologist with CuliNex.
For example, she noted, the role of an egg in yellow cake is not the same as the functionality of an egg in a cookie – therefore the replacement is very different.
Specifically, the batter viscosity and aeration, rise, color and appearance and baked flavor and texture of yellow cake were all negatively affected by egg replacers, according to the research.
Similar results occurred when eggs were replaced in cheesecake, which relies on the proteins and emulsifying properties of eggs to create a rich, dense cheese filling with a proper mouthfeel, according to CuliNex and The American Egg Board.
Egg replacers also impact consumer perceptions
In addition to altering the final taste, texture and color of baked goods, egg replacers can negatively impact consumer perception of a product before they even try it, said McKee.
She explained that while most consumers easily recognize eggs in an ingredient deck, they might not recognize or be able to pronounce the ingredients used to replace eggs. In addition, she said, often a blend of ingredients are need to replace the full functionality of eggs – making the ingredient deck longer, which is a turn off to many consumers today.
Cost savings may not be long-lasting
Many manufacturers that reformulated with egg replacers also may be reticent to switch back to real eggs because eggs are more expensive – cutting into their margins.
But Mark Crowell, the principle culinologist at CuliNex, told FoodNavigator-USA that the financial impact of egg replacers may not yet be fully recognized.
As a former product developer, Crowell said he understands that eggs may be a higher “hard cost,” meaning manufacturers must pay out more upfront for them. But, he said egg replacers likely have higher “soft costs,” which could be more damaging in the long run.
For example, he explained a soft cost would be consumers refusing to repeatedly purchase a reformulated product because it does not have the same lift, color and mouthfeel as it did when it was made with eggs – causing the company to ultimately lose money.
He suspects that the full extent of these soft costs have not yet been realized given many of the reformulations are less than a year on the market. But he expects that some manufacturers could be in store for a rude awakening in the coming months.
When that happens, he predicts more manufacturers will return to eggs.