Following an unprecedentedly bad avian influenza season in the US, in combination with higher operating costs, egg prices have hit the roof. Some believe that reports of a crisis have been, well, over-egged. But it’s clear that the situation has hit many farmers, food businesses, and consumers hard, in a number of countries.
One beneficiary has been makers of egg alternatives. Some of these companies have seen more interest since Christmas.
One of these is the restaurant supplier Zero Egg, whose plant-based egg patties and egg liquid are made from a blend of soy, chickpea, and potato proteins. Zero Egg began receiving more requests from January 2023.
And the company Eat Just, which embarked on a marketing blitz as egg prices skyrocketed, has seen a slight upturn. The company reports increased retail sales of 3% for its JUST Egg liquid and foldable items.
They’ve also been adding to their mung bean-based product line. “This January, we had one of the highest new to brand household increases in our history (11%) driven by our pourable JUST Egg (found in the egg section of most grocery stores),” comments Matt Riley, chief revenue officer for Eat Just. “We infer from this that many shoppers, faced with empty egg shelves or sky-high prices, switched to JUST Egg during this time.”
The company has been adding manufacturing capacity, and Riley says that they have been able to meet the increased demand. They’re considering expanding product offerings further in the next year, with additional frozen handheld and single-serve meal options.
These are promising indications of improved demand for plant-based eggs, but they’re relatively modest. And not all vegan egg producers have been benefitting. Some of the same financial pressures that have hit chicken farmers have affected vegan companies as well.
For example, in January 2023, the chef Skye Michael Conroy announced that Vegan Eggz Essentials, his powdered egg product, had been discontinued by the specialist food supplier Modernist Pantry. According to Modernist Pantry, low sales coupled with rising prices led to this decision: “in the past 2 years the price for the ingredients had tripled so it did not make sense to continue carrying the product line.”
Now that it’s no longer proprietary, Conroy has shared his formula for vegan eggs (along with suggestions for places to source some of the less common ingredients).
Likewise, the well-established vegetarian food company Follow Your Heart appears to have quietly discontinued its VeganEgg product.
This mixed picture shows that vegan egg producers can’t afford to be complacent, and need to keep investing in lowering prices while meeting consumers’ taste expectations. This can be a challenging balance amidst inflationary pressures. According to Riley of Eat Just, JUST Egg is only slightly more expensive than chicken eggs – at an average retail price of $4.64 per 12-ounce bottle compared to $4.58 per dozen eggs.
Conventional egg prices could keep climbing through spring. Yet even if those prices do settle back down, Riley isn’t worried about a plant-based bubble bursting, as it has slightly for other alternative proteins. “Conventional egg prices will fluctuate over time but the risks associated with the production of conventional chicken eggs will not,” Riley emphasizes. “JUST Egg remains a better-for-you and better-for-the-planet choice.”
Vegan alternatives are also, of course, better for animals. The prices of industrially produced chicken eggs have been kept cheap in recent years thanks to horrendous conditions for farmed chickens. Chickens are producing more eggs in a shorter timeframe than ever before, leading to sickly and unnatural-looking animals.
Whether business patterns can keep up with the ethics of the broader egg market remains to be seen.