Garden to Table
February 24, 2008
Spring is almost here. Time to smell the flowers, bask in the sunshine and gobble up those eggs. With Easter and Passover fast approaching, it’s no wonder that eggs are the main attraction this time of year. That’s because eggs have long represented a symbol of birth and rebirth in most cultures, and have been included in holiday celebrations across the globe for centuries.
Long before eggs were used for Easter egg hunts and baskets, and predating Christianity, eggs were often exchanged as gifts wrapped in golf leafs or decorated with flowers. In Jewish tradition, eggs are served during the Passover Seder to remind participants of the cycle of life and their hopes for the future. Christians later adopted the egg to represent Christ’s resurrection – hence, the connection with Easter.
No matter what your tradition, you’ve probably heard eggs referred to as nature’s miracle food. Versatile, tasty and easy to prepare, eggs are a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Eggs provide one of the highest-quality proteins found in any food and offer all nine essential amino acids that our bodies need. Only 72 calories per serving, eggs provide 13 essential nutrients, and are an excellent source of choline and riboflavin. Now, a recent study indicates that eating eggs may be associated with a decrease in blood pressure.
Still, consumers seem to be limiting egg consumption out of concerns for their health. A January survey of healthy adults conducted by the Egg Nutrition Center shows that 24% of Americans avoid eggs for fear of consuming too much dietary cholesterol, even as researchers have concluded that most healthy adults on a low-fat diet can eat one or two eggs a day without measurable changes in their blood cholesterol levels.
Nielsen data confirms a four-year decline in consumer consumption of prepackaged, UPC-coded fresh eggs. In 2003, American consumers purchased 1.99 billion dozen eggs in food, drug and mass merchandise stores (excluding Wal-Mart), but this figure has fallen steadily each year since. Sales fell by 2.5% in 2004, 2.8% in 2005, 3.4% in 2006, and 2.8% in 2007. Purchases in 2007 were down to 1.77 billion dozen eggs.
The American Egg Board disagrees with these findings, pointing out that per capita egg consumption has been steadily increasing since 1995, and that Nielsen data may not be accounting for eggs moving into other channels, or for large retailers that do not provide scanner data. They say that consumer concern over eggs and dietary cholesterol is actually at an all-time low, and that the idea that the dietary cholesterol found in eggs is correlated with heart disease is a longstanding myth that needs to be addressed. In fact, a 2007 study on the subject showed that egg consumption contributes less than one percent of the risk of heart disease when other risk factors are taken into account.
Meanwhile, egg prices are higher, boosting dollar sales. Dollar sales of fresh eggs rose in three of the past four years, ending with a 31.6% rise in 2007 to $3.02 billion (from $2.29 billion in 2006.) Specialty categories are helping to keep dollar sales up, with consumers paying premium prices for eggs with Omega-3 presence, organic eggs, hormone antibiotic free eggs and eggs with antioxidants. Interestingly, even as some consumers are paying more for eggs labeled as free of hormones and antibiotics, the American Egg Board indicates that all eggs contain these qualities – even if the label doesn’t say so.
While interest in organic eggs doubled between 2003 and 2007, 2007 gains for hormone antibiotic free eggs jumped two and a half times. As the newest specialty segment, antioxidant eggs jumped from sales of $43,000 in 2004 to $353,000 in 2007. EUV (equivalized unit volume) grew in all specialty categories as well, with Omega-3 eggs growing from 51.8 million dozen in 2003 to 93.9 million dozen in 2007. Antioxidant egg EUV was up seven-fold, to 97,000 dozen at the end of 2007. Organics expanded from 14.9 million dozen in 2003 to 30.5 million dozen in 2007.
“Egg producers have done a terrific job of innovating their egg offerings to provide the types of products that consumers are demanding. These innovations are bringing new news to eggs, and are driving more people to the egg case, where they have more choices than ever before,” says Kevin Burkum, Vice President of Marketing for the American Egg Board.
Regardless of health claims (in either direction) or marketing perceptions, Easter is the time for eggs. More eggs are purchased in the days and weeks leading up to Easter than any other time of the year. Burkum says that the future for eggs is very bright – even beyond Easter.
“There is no better protein for the money, making eggs a terrific value, especially in these uncertain economic times. The industry will continue to stay on top of consumer trends, and will continue to provide the kinds of eggs that tomorrow’s consumers will demand,” says Burkum.