For meat and dairy manufacturers, the shift towards low/no meat and animal product-free diets presents a serious threat. This is particularly true in markets where this trend is really taking off, notably North America and Europe. Nevertheless, meat and dairy are no longer the only sectors facing this challenge as plant-based competitors seek to create alternatives for other traditionally animal-based products. The next in line is the humble egg.

Having launched in the US just a month ago, American brand Just has signed its first distribution deal in Europe for its egg alternative. Available in a liquid format, the brand claims that the mung bean-based product can be used exactly like an egg while also being free from cholesterol, antibiotics, and is more sustainable to produce.

The opportunity for egg alternatives to take a slice out of these regional egg markets is significant given the importance of this product in their food culture. According to 2017 industry estimates, in the UK alone, the average person consumed 197 eggs a year while in the US this figure increased to 276.

Alongside this, greater awareness surrounding the welfare of laying hens could contribute to the shift towards egg alternatives. While traditional battery farming has been phased out in Europe, this is still common practice for a significant amount of egg-laying hens in the US. Similarly, the claim “cage-free” may not guarantee high welfare – while hens may not be confined in cages they may be reared in intensive indoor systems. This could make cruelty-free plant-based options more appealing.

Aligned with this, the carbon footprint of egg production is also a cause for concern as sustainability issues become ever more present in the media and awareness grows among consumers. A study by EWG and CleanMetrics in 2015 found that 4.8kg of CO2 was produced per kilo of eggs compared with just 2kg per kilo of dry beans highlighting the environmentally conscious nature of choosing plant-based egg alternatives over traditional ones.

Finally, the perception that plant-based products are “better for you” will be a key driver in the uptake of plant-based egg alternatives. Eggs are often perceived as high in cholesterol, despite being a source of protein. Nevertheless with 13% of consumers in the US alone following a low meat diet and a further 10% associating themselves as being vegan or vegetarian (GlobalData’s 2018 global consumer survey), desire for products which can provide “clean protein” is likely to grow creating new opportunities for brands such as Just.

Egg alternatives have yet to reach the mainstream. However with many consumers considering the health and sustainability impact of consuming animal-based products the opportunity is significant, particularly given the importance of such products in regional and global food culture. Providing like-for-like plant-based alternatives in terms of application and taste across all sectors is likely to find appeal and will be important considerations for NPD and investment in future.

For traditional egg manufacturers, a focus on animal welfare and sustainability in production will be essential to convey in their product offer. Similarly, emphasis on the nutritional values of traditional egg products will need to be communicated in order to continue to engage increasingly health and sustainability conscious consumers

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