Despite recent losses, volumes are almost back to pre-pandemic levels. The humanely raised and sustainably farmed segments continue to gain ground.
Thanks mostly to last year’s pandemic-fueled shopping frenzy, total fresh egg sales during the 12 weeks ended July 11 were down 13.4% compared to the same period in 2020, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). For the year, however, sales were off only 1.1%. In fact, reports Marc Dresner, director of integrated marketing at the American Egg Board (aeb.org), Chicago, shell egg volume at retail is close to pre-pandemic levels, which were at record highs.
A TOUGH QUARTER
At the subcategory level, shell eggs fell 14.3% (to $1.29 billion) during the most recent quarter while sales of egg substitutes and egg white substitutes rose 3.5% (to $24.02 million) and 6.7% (to $52.36 million), respectively.
Given the comparison against April to July 2020, “We believe this trajectory is very normal and are not concerned,” says Matthew Sherman, CMO of Franklin, N.Y.-based Handsome Brook Farms (handsomebrookfarms.com). “We would rather the world return to some sense of normalcy than worry about hurdling such an unusual period.”
While the comparison to last spring is the main reason sales fell so precipitously, other factors play a role as well. “With a climbing percentage of the population now vaccinated and restrictions lifted around the country, Americans are dining out more,” says Dresner. “Similarly, it’s safe to say that after cooking up to three meals a day seven days a week for an extended period of time, Americans are experiencing some cooking fatigue.”
Cooking fatigue combined with a return to work and school is actually boosting sales of hard-boiled eggs, which declined at the onset of the pandemic, Dresner adds. The format “satisfies two very important consumer needs: convenience and nutritional value,” he notes.
CAGE-FREE, ORGANIC GROWING
As consumer interest in animal welfare heightens, sales of cage-free and organic eggs continue their upward trajectory. Organic egg sales shot up 19% during the year ended July 17 compared with the same period two years ago while cage-free sales jumped 15%, reports the American Egg Board. Conventional sales were up 7.4%.
“Like conventional eggs, volume sales for both of these subcategories were also down year-to-date and year-over-year, but less so than conventional,” says Dresner.
All organic egg categories are seeing healthy growth, but demand for pasture-raised eggs is especially robust, says Dan Kubiak, brand manager at LaFarge, Wis.-based Organic Valley (organicvalley.coop). “Consumers want eggs from farms with animal-welfare standards that guarantee more natural living conditions, including access to pasture.”
Eggs produced under the best conditions continue to grow at a faster pace than the rest of the category, particularly free-range and cage-free eggs, says Sherman. “The market in this category continues to separate into those who make choices on price versus those who make them on values.”
Handsome Brook Farms recently launched 18-count packages “to compete with the growing trend toward more value in the premium segment,” reports Sherman. “We want to bring the most humane, sustainable eggs to a wider audience.”
Regenerative egg production is a new distinction in the marketplace, and multiple regional chains are beginning to carry eggs produced using regenerative management practices, says John Brunnquell, president and CEO of Warsaw, Ind.-based Egg Innovations (egginnovations.com).
The company’s new Blue Sky Family Farms Helpful Hens lineup features free-range and pasture-raised eggs sustainably farmed with regenerative practices. The four SKUs include: Pasture Raised Organic, Pasture Raised Non-GMO, Free Range Organic and Free Range Non-GMO.
“As consumers become more educated on climate change, there’s a newfound understanding around sustainable practices, as well as a desire to buy and eat responsibly” says Brunnquell.
All the eggs come from hens that are raised “in complete support of their natural behaviors, all while in pursuit of restoring the earth to its most organic state,” he adds.
Another new player in the regenerative segment, Monroe, N.H.-based Pete & Gerry’s, debuted a similar lineup in April. The Consider Pastures (considerpastures.com) brand not only provides the highest level of animal welfare but also “does right by the earth,” says vp of marketing Paul Turbeville. Offered in a distinctive patent-pending carton, it won the NEXTY Award for best new meat, dairy or animal-based product.
INNOVATION IN VALUE-ADDED EGGS
Value-added additions are also fueling excitement in the category. The latest addition is Omelet Rounds from Chicago-based Kraft Heinz’s Just Crack an Egg (justcrackanegg.net) brand. Available flavors include: All American, Three Meat, Classic, and Broccoli Cheddar. The “easy-to-prep” baked egg omelets serve as a quick, protein-filled breakfast, says Sarah Wawrzynski, brand manager of convenient breakfast.
“With the pandemic shifting breakfast back into the home, Kraft Heinz saw an opportunity to deliver a convenient and delicious breakfast innovation for consumers wanting an easy and fresh meal while working at home,” she explains.
By utilizing cage-free eggs that are baked, not sous vide, the microwaveable offering is “fluffy and soft on the inside and packed evenly with meats and veggies,” adds Wawrzynski.
Organic Valley Egg Bites, launched last fall, have also been very popular with consumers looking for convenient, high-protein breakfast options, reports Kubiak. “With weekday habits evolving during the pandemic, we expect to see continued excitement from consumers for easy, ‘grab and go’ breakfast solutions.”
PLANT-BASED EGG SALES BOOMING
Sales of plant-based eggs skyrocketed 168% in the past year and 706% in the past two years, according to the Good Food Institute, which estimates the category’s worth at about $27 million. In fact, a 46.3% gain by the plant-based Just brand gets sole credit for the egg substitute category’s 3.5% advance during the most recent 12 weeks, according to IRI.
The newest addition to the category is Nabati Plant Eggz from Edmonton, Alberta-based Nabati Foods (nabati.ca). It’s expected to debut this fall.
“For a long time, people have had to compromise and settle for a breakfast that didn’t contain eggs due to their dietary restrictions, ethical and environmental stances, or other preferences,” says Ahmad Yehya, Nabati Foods CEO. “We want to give the consumer the ability to enjoy those classic breakfast staples like scrambled eggs and omelets by providing a plant-based egg alternative that mimics the real thing.”
The supplier also wanted to create an alternative that moves away from animal agriculture and helps lower greenhouse gasses, “but without feeling like a trade-off,” says Yehya. Plant Eggz are soy-free and gluten-free, and made with lupin protein isolate from lupin beans, which are high in vitamins, protein and fiber, he says.
Sales in supermarkets, drugstores, mass merchants, military commissaries and select club and dollar stores combined for the 12 weeks ended July 11, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). Percent change is versus the same period a year ago. Only brands with at least $5 million in sales during the period are listed.