But the premium segment — especially pasture-raised — continues to thrive, thanks in part to narrowing price gaps.
Although egg prices are falling as producers slowly rebuild flocks decimated by avian flu, consumers hit hard not just by “eggflation” but rising prices across the supermarket are pulling back on purchases. During the 12 weeks ended March 26, dollar sales shot up 65.1% (versus the same period a year ago) to more than $2.75 billion, according to Chicago-based market research firm Circana, formerly IRI and The NPD Group. But units and volume fell 7.0% and 6.6%, respectively, highlighting a slight shift to higher-count, better-value packages, especially 60- and 24-count cartons.
SHIFT TO PREMIUM EGGS CONTINUES
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, year-over-year data provided by the American Egg Board (AEB) also reveals continued movement toward higher-priced premium eggs. While equalized volume of conventional eggs fell 6.2% during the past 52 weeks (and17.8% the past two years), equalized volume of cage-free eggs rose 4.3% (54.5% the past two years). “Some of the growth of cage-free is driven by legislation in states like California and Massachusetts that mandated a transition to cage-free,” says AEB insights manager John Gallagher. However, the 37.1% growth in equalized volume of pasture-raised eggs (+76.8% the past two years) is being driven purely by consumer demand for a more humanely raised product. What about the price?
‘Premium egg prices are up only 15% to 18% year-over-year. Since it’s not that much more money for a higher quality product, a lot of consumers are trading up.’
“A lot of the inflation in the category is being driven by commodity eggs whose prices more than doubled,” explains Tom Flocco, CEO of Salem, N.H.-based Pete & Gerry’s. “But premium egg prices are up only 15% to 18% year-over-year,” considerably narrowing the price gap between the two segments. “Since it’s not that much more money for a higher quality product, a lot of consumers are trading up to premium eggs,” particularly pasture-raised. He adds that the price gap will probably widen eventually, but shoppers who made the switch are likely to stick with premium eggs once they realize how much better they are. Plus, even at $7.49 a dozen, pasture-raised eggs are less expensive than other proteins, says Flocco. “They’re clean, sustainable and good for the environment, too.”
For all of those reasons, Pete & Gerry’s just introduced its first Pasture-Raised Eggs. The new SKU is sourced from hens raised on small family farms under Certified Humane Pasture-Raised welfare standards that require at least 108 square feet of pasture per bird. So there’s room to roam, forage and explore, says Flocco. “Consumers choose premium eggs based on how hens are treated or how they’re fed,” he adds. With the addition of pasture-raised to Pete & Gerry’s existing organic free-range offering, “Now we have products to meet both of those needs.”
In addition, all Pete & Gerry’s packaging now features the word “healthy,” after federal guidelines around use of the term were revised recently. “Consumer confusion around whether or not eggs are healthy has persisted for too long, and it is finally our moment to proudly declare what we’ve known all along: eggs are, in fact, healthy,” says CMO Phyllis Rothschild.
But there’s a lot more that consumers need to know about eggs, and there’s not always room to include it all on the package, says Flocco. “The category is confusing, so we need to help our retailer partners educate consumers on exactly what [various terms] mean so they can choose products that match their values.” Simple signage at the point of sale is a good first step, he adds.
MOBILE COOPS PROMOTE SOIL HEALTH
Another company in the premium egg space, Roy, Wash.-based Wilcox Family Farms, offers a slightly different twist on pasture-raised. In 2017, it became the first egg producer in the United States to house its hens in mobile chicken coops that are moved each week, giving the birds access to fresh grass and greatly improving the health of the soil. The product is officially labeled Regenerative Mobile Pasture Raised Eggs, but a tagline on the carton refers to it as “the evolution of pasture-raised.”
Although Wilcox is still one of the only egg producers in the U.S. using mobile coops, regenerative agriculture is becoming a huge trend in the category. For example, Denver-based New Barn Organics recently introduced the first nationally distributed Regenerative Organic Certified pasture-raised eggs, currently available at select Whole Foods Markets. Meanwhile, Vital Farms, Austin, Texas, launched Restorative Pasture-Raised Eggs, which are produced using regenerative agriculture principles but aren’t certified by a third party because they don’t use mobile coops.
Despite the popularity of pasture-raised and regenerative, the newest addition to Wilcox Family Farms’ lineup is a soy-free version of its hot-selling Omega-3 free-range offering. Soy is one of the top eight food allergens, “But very few companies are producing soy-free eggs,” says Scott Warfield, who handles marketing for Wilcox Farms. “So there is a need.” (Plus, customers asked for them.)
‘Consumer confusion around whether or not eggs are healthy has persisted for too long, and it is finally our moment to proudly declare what we’ve known all along: eggs are, in fact, healthy
On the East Coast, New Holland, Pa.-based Utopihen Farms also offers soy-free eggs (though its are pasture-raised), reports marketing and brand manager George Weaver IV, who says retailers are often surprised by how well the niche item performs. “It will never be the No. 1 seller, but it will bring in a consumer that the store wants” — a consumer who will search for that product until they find it. “The question is: Do you want them in your store where they’ll buy other products as well, or do you want to let them go elsewhere?” he asks.
Another new item to look for comes from the Happy Egg Co., Rogers, Ark., which recently began expanding distribution of its Vitamin Plus Free Range eggs. They debuted in select Kroger stores last year. The eggs contain 10 times more Vitamin D and two times more Vitamin B7 and Vitamin B9 than standard grade A eggs, making them a good choice for consumers interested in adding more functional foods to their diet, says the company.
NEW IN FROZEN EGGS
While shell eggs are grabbing all of the headlines lately, more convenient frozen egg-based products are also making news. For example, Rahway, N.J.-based Veggies Made Great is rolling out frozen Egg Patties in three “veggie-forward” flavors: Garden Vegetable, Veggie Bacon and Southwest. Easy to prepare in a microwave or air fryer, each patty contains 70 calories, 6 grams of protein and 0 grams of added sugar, reports the company. The product can be added to a breakfast sandwich or burrito, placed atop avocado toast or even used as a low-carb bread substitute.
In the plant-based egg segment, meanwhile, Austin, Texas-based Crafty Counter is reportedly launching Egg White Patties this summer. Its WunderEggs, a plant-based version of traditional hard-boiled eggs, launched at Whole Foods earlier this year to rave reviews.