By David Burrows
Eggs are hitting the right spot for consumers right now, with sales growing strongly and young people embracing this protein-rich natural product. Now Noble Foods has launched a range of premium speciality eggs. So how much further can eggs progress?
Eggs is eggs, right? Wrong. These days they are the latest social media ‘it food’. Cloud eggs – in which the white is ‘fluffed up’ to look like a cloud and the yolk sits proudly on top, like the sun – have taken Instagram by storm. In May, the hastag #cloudeggs ballooned in popularity with hundreds of posts. Next month there will be a new fad of course but the future for the mass egg market looks bright, according to figures compiled by Kantar Worldpanel for Poultry Business.
Sales volumes continue to rise. In the 52 weeks to 23 April, 2017, almost 6 billion shell eggs were sold in UK supermarkets – an increase of more than 300 million in the same period the previous year and 800 million more than four years ago (see box). Eggs, suggests Kantar Worldpanel expert Nathan Ward, seem to be the new avocado, where impressive uplifts in sales have been driven by people using them in different ways as well as celebrity endorsements. “It’s a trend we’re seeing across grocery, with a rise in both physical [on shelf] and mental [on TV, social media etc] availability.”
Not everyone is going to spend most of the morning baking eggs into a cloud or the afternoon perfecting a Victoria Sponge to make Mary Berry proud, but people are also eating more and more eggs out of home (see ‘Brunch breakthrough’). “The resurgence of eggs has impacted breakfast menus everywhere,” says Geraldine Phillips, marketing director at Noble Foods. “We’ve also seen eggs increasingly offered as snacks and on menus around the country, which has increased overall consumption and inspired consumers.”
Indeed, last year Brits ate around 193 eggs each, according to the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC). Rewind 15 or 20 years and that figure was just 160, which demonstrates just how far the category has come. Still, look at EU per capita consumption of 215 and that still leaves a “10% opportunity”, says BEIC chairman Andrew Joret.
But first things first: how has the egg industry managed such a remarkable uplift in sales volumes in the past few years?
Joret says it’s not because of a mad scramble to photograph egg ‘clouds’ or people with the time and money to enjoy poached eggs and avocados at 11am. It has more to do with health issues, he explains: in the 1990s and early 2000s concerns over cholesterol and salmonella caused a whole generation of people to turn their backs on eggs. Things have changed.
It was way back in 2000 that the Department of Health together with organisations like the British Heart Foundation changed their advice in relation to egg consumption and cholesterol. However, it’s taken a number of years to stick. “You don’t change opinion overnight,” explains Joret, who feels “we are at a turning point and the message [on cholesterol] has got through. [These days] it’s just not us saying it, everyone is.”
There are signs the salmonella story is reaching a similar crossroads. Last summer, research published by the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food showed a major reduction in the risk from salmonella in UK eggs since 2001. The report acknowledged the significant efforts taken by industry to reduce Salmonella Enteritidis in laying flocks, including vaccination, improved farm hygiene, enhanced testing, date stamping on individual eggs and a cool chain from farm to shop.
Critically, the experts concluded that “the very low risk level means that UK eggs produced under the Lion Code, or under demonstrably equivalent comprehensive schemes, can be served raw or lightly cooked to all groups in society, including those that are more vulnerable to infection, in domestic and non-domestic settings, including care homes and hospitals”.
This promises to open the market up to new consumers, including the young, pregnant women and the elderly. “We want to be able to serve runny eggs in old people’s homes because we can’t get people to eat enough protein and they don’t want to eat a hard-boiled egg,” Joret explains.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has since proposed new advice on consumption of runny eggs in line with the ACMSF’s findings. The industry is hopeful of final confirmation anytime soon. Once again it will take time and “continuous messaging” to bring those lost consumers back, but BEIC has already joined forces with the National Association of Care Catering to raise awareness and remind caterers of the nutritional value of eggs.
But the health message is one that the egg industry is keen to push to everyone – and the BEIC is not afraid to spend big to ensure people listen. In January, it signed up three celebrities to front a £1m marketing campaign: TV chef Simon Rimmer, presenter Helen Skelton and fitness expert Lucy Mecklenburgh will all be pushing the health benefits of eggs, as well as their versatility.
Indeed, Joret says this could be a really strong period for the egg industry. Consumers are looking for healthy and natural options that are also quick and easy to prepare, he says, which puts eggs “in a unique position to capitalise on this demand”.
The hype created by celebrities and clouds, combined with the easing of health concerns, could result in more consumers pausing for thought at the egg aisle. They’ve already embraced free-range, for example, whilst Noble have been amongst those who have introduced branded ranges to the shelves.
As Kantar’s Ward noted above, it’s the combination of physical and mental availability that has driven avocado sales through the roof. Do the supermarkets sense similar potential for eggs?
They’re certainly providing more choice for shoppers, says Philips, with most stores offering opportunities to trade up through free-range, organic and speciality ranges. This makes sense, she says, given that it’s the premium segments that are growing strongly – Nielsen figures in the 52 weeks to 22 April 2017 show free-range and organic up 1.5% and 5.5% respectively, but outstripping both those (albeit from a smaller base) is speciality (up 9.5%).
The newest brand at this ultra premium end of the block is Heritage Breeds, which was launched in April by Noble Foods. The range includes Gladys May’s duck eggs and Speckled Quailand quail eggs. “The key message we want to communicate is that all eggs are not the same,” says Phillips, who believes people will pay the premium for high quality and high welfare (see Industry Q&A). “It’s a common myth that an egg is just an egg when it comes to mealtimes but […] we want to demonstrate that there are eggs for different meal occasions and that various eggs suit different dishes,” she adds.
Extending the repertoire of eggs beyond breakfast and into other mealtimes as well as in between will be critical if UK per capita consumption is to continue rising towards those European averages BEIC is targeting. As Kantar’s Ward concludes: “In eggs, penetration is at almost 96% already, so it’s about making sure you’re in as many meals as possible.”
Eggs are in fashion when it comes to eating out, especially mid morning. Current affairs magazine The Week recently noted how “… the brunch phenomenon rumbles on, fuelled by an apparently inexhaustible supply of poached eggs, avocados and millennials”.
One in 10 breakfasts are now eaten on the go, according to a report published in October by market research firm NPD. The number of breakfast servings has also grown 3% in the past year, ahead of lunch and dinner. Over the last five years, it’s grown by an impressive 18%.
Cooked breakfasts are also on the rise, up 30% in the past couple of years, according to Katherine Jack from the strategic insight team at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB). And that’s thanks largely to an increase in egg-based dishes, she says.
London even boasts cafés and bars dedicated to eggs (a trend that’s emerged from the ‘street food’ scene). Specialising in one ingredient can be a risky business, of course, but as the author of The Breakfast Bible Seb Emina has suggested, “if we’re going to have them then it’s right that so many of them should be egg specialists. Eggs are the most versatile ingredient in the world.”
So why stop at breakfast? “I was at a meeting with Pret A Manger recently,” explains BEIC chairman Andrew Joret, “and they’re doing spinach pots with egg. Leon also have egg-based dishes… as consumer requirements change, the different ways to consume eggs is changing.”
There’s a lot of mileage in snacking, he claims, noting how some supermarkets are already jumping on the trends emerging from foodservice. Gastro pubs have driven interest in scotch eggs, for example, through offering freshly made options with runny yolks; and retailers are already offering these in a pre-prepared format.
With eggs ticking so many boxes – health, convenience, value and speed – these innovations are just the tip of the iceberg, Joret says. “We’d expect to see both foodservice operators and food manufacturers scrambling to develop the next [egg-based dishes].”
Noble Foods marketing director Geraldine Philips explains how speciality eggs can boost penetration.
How are sales of speciality eggs doing?
In the 52 weeks to 22 April 2017, volume sales of any egg from a special breed were up 8.8% and value 5.5%. In the 12 weeks to the same date the figures were 9.6% and 13.6% respectively, whilst in the four weeks to 22 April volume was up 16.1% and value 20.9%, according to figures we have from Nielsen.
But that’s starting from a very small base (less than 1% of the overall market) isn’t it?
Yes. Our consumer research has indicated that whilst speciality eggs are the fastest growing segment of the egg category, approximately nine out of 10 households remain unaware of the benefits of higher quality eggs.
Which consumers are you targeting with the new Heritage Breeds range?
It’s designed for the five million households in the UK that are known for being adventurous in their choice of foods and are willing to pay a little more for quality.
Will people be prepared to pay £2.50 for half a dozen eggs?
We believe so. Today’s consumer is more discerning and expects high quality and high welfare standards from the food they purchase. Look at the egg category and it’s the more premium sectors showing the strongest growth.
How can speciality benefit the wider category?
We want people to appreciate that different varieties of eggs have characteristics unique to them. The Copper Marans is a great all-rounder, it’s rich, orange yolk stands out in a baked egg dish or Huevos Rancheros. However, the Royal Legbar is perfect for showcasing a stunning pastel blue shell, when simply soft boiled. There are definitely more opportunities to go for with further innovation, driving awareness of different eggs.