According to the AEB, per capita egg consumption (based on figures from the US Department of Agriculture, which cover retail shell eggs and eggs in foodservice and consumer packaged goods*) was 279 eggs per person, per year, in 2017 compared to 275 in 2016, 256 in 2015, 267 in 2014, 257 in 2013 and 254 in 2012.
To put this in a broader context, US egg consumption peaked in the 1940s at around 380 eggs per person per year (more than one a day), and declined to around 230 in the mid-1990s, before rising a little and then hovering fairly steadily around the 250-mark in the first decade of the 21st century with a blip in 2007-2009 (during the recession).
Consumption then started to grow again from 2011 onwards, with another blip in 2015 (when bird flu decimated parts of the industry), AEB president and CEO Anne Alonzo told FoodNavigator-USA.
While aggressive restocking after the avian flu outbreak meant the US ended up with more birds after the flu than it had prior - which depressed pricing and dented margins at major egg producers - Nielsen data** supplied by the AEB shows volumes of fresh eggs sold at retail rose 3.8% in 2016, 2% in 2017 and 8.4% YoY in the first month of 2018, she said.
So what’s behind the growing per capita consumption figures?
There are likely multiple factors at play, speculated Alonzo, 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.
Some high profile launches both in foodservice (McDonald’s all-day-breakfast) and consumer packaged goods (the new Just Crack an Egg microwaveable pots from Kraft Heinz) have also stimulated growth, she said, while retailers and coffee shops are also increasingly including snack packs and trays that feature hardboiled eggs in fresh/chilled snacking sets (protein packs etc), she observed.
“We’re also doing a lot of work with chefs at chains such as Panera and companies developing things like breakfast bowls, tacos and breakfast burritos with eggs.”
From a nutritional perspective, meanwhile, consumers are also getting the message that dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol are not the same, and that higher consumption of eggs – an affordable source of high quality protein and key nutrients such as choline, vitamin D and other nutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin- is not associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease or stroke, she added.
“I think the fact that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines removed the daily cholesterol limit [of 300 mg] also made a difference to consumer perceptions [although the guidelines do not say dietary cholesterol is entirely inconsequential – adding that ditching the 300mg upper limit should “not suggest that dietary cholesterol is no longer important to consider when building healthy eating patterns.”]
Another high-profile win for the egg industry was an amendment to ‘Smart Snacks’ rules, which granted an exemption for whole eggs – even though they exceed total fat and saturated fat thresholds – owing to their nutrient density.
As for exports, the 20% growth estimated for 2017 and the 21% growth predicted for 2018 is in part a reflection of the market bouncing back after avian flu, acknowledged Alonzo.
But it also reflects recent efforts by the AEB (which has a remit of expanding domestic and foreign markets and uses for eggs and egg products) and the USA Poultry & Egg Council to cultivate specific overseas markets including Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, the Middle East and the Caribbean via trade missions, reverse trade missions, meetings with egg users, participation in trade shows, and seminars to help domestic producers target overseas customers.
While there are plenty of other countries competing with the US to supply eggs to these markets, “US eggs and egg products are subject to the highest standards of safety and quality and are monitored by multiple US government agencies,” claimed Alonzo.
“In the case of US table eggs, they are washed, sanitized, packaged and shipped within hours of laying, while US egg products are pasteurized and refrigerated across their supply chain – which is not necessarily the case with other countries.”
In 2016, total U.S. egg exports including table eggs and egg products were valued at roughly $202m, and are projected to grow by about 21% in 2017. Exports in 2018 are predicted to grow about 20% with the largest increases occurring in South Korea and Japan, she added.
Cal-Maine Foods – the largest producer and marketer of shell eggs in the US – markets specialty shell eggs under the Egg-Land's Best, Land O' Lakes, Farmhouse, and 4-Grain brands, and says pricing for these has remained slightly less volatile than non-specialty shell egg prices, although challenges remain in the wider market for egg products.
In its most recent (Q2 2018) earnings report released on January 5, 2018, it said: "Retail demand for calendar year 2017 has been very good and in line with normal seasonal trends, supported by increased egg promotions in grocery stores. After a period of sluggish demand from institutional food customers, this sector has seen increasing egg usage in recent months. The USDA reports that shell egg exports have continued to expand in calendar 2017 and have recovered from previous low levels following the 2015 avian influenza outbreak.
"Export demand has also increased as a result of the reported Fipronil contaminations across Europe and Southeast Asia. Together, these demand trends have resulted in a more favorable market environment compared with a year ago. The laying hen flock size has been consistent with prior-year levels as production has moderated, resulting in an improved balance of supply and demand. Accordingly, our net average selling price for shell eggs for the second quarter of fiscal 2018 was $1.321 compared with $0.971 for the corresponding period of fiscal 2017.
"Recent USDA reports, however, show an increase in chicks hatched which could indicate future increases in supply."
*USDA calculates per capita consumption by measuring total egg production, less exports, plus imports, and diving the figure by the total population.
**Nielsen data: Extended all outlets (xAOC) combined, plus convenience stores.