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Egg producers and processors should make more of eggs’ natural and enriched health benefits to open up new markets.

With the growing focus on health and slimming, the opportunities for boosting egg sales through better marketing were considerable, said Steve Pritchard, head of poultry at Premier Nutrition.

“England now ranks fifth in the world’s most obese countries, and as a nation we are getting fatter. That increases the risk of many diseases, which is a great burden on the individual and on the health service: Obesity costs the NHS about £5bn a year.”

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Speaking at the WCLA conference near Exeter, Mr Pritchard said that trying to promote any food as “healthy” usually made people think it was boring, so instead processors should focus on taste.

“It’s about health by stealth,” he suggested. “Rather than telling people to eat healthily, we must sell on taste. Selling isn’t a dirty word; we’ve got a good product and a good story and we need to sell those benefits to the consumer.”

“Everyone says that an egg is just an egg – but it’s absolutely not.” Rebecca Tonks

Studies had shown that people eating eggs for breakfast rather than cereal enjoyed 61% more weight loss, and high protein diets were proven to improve weight loss, increase satiety after eating, and modulate blood glucose.

Typically, people cooked the same 10 meals in rotation, so getting eggs on to the menu would generate repeat business, he added.

“Eggs provide high-quality protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and essential fatty acids,” said Mr Pritchard. But it was also possible to enrich eggs to make them even better, through adding specific ingredients to the chicken feed.

“We can make richer-coloured yolks, add carotenoids to protect against macular degeneration, or boost vitamin E and selenium to reduce the risk of cancer. There are lots of opportunities out there.”

Enriched eggs

Rebecca Tonks, an independent producer from St Ewe who packs eggs from 50,000 hens across the West Country, recently developed a line of enriched organic eggs boasting higher selenium contents, called Boost the Roost.

“Everyone says that an egg is just an egg – but it’s absolutely not,” she said. “Looking for different ways to market eggs brought us to selenium enrichment and it’s been great fun to develop.”

The health benefits of selenium were considerable, including boosting the immune system, protecting cells against oxidative damage, and aiding male fertility, said Mrs Tonks.

But across the EU and UK the average person’s daily intake was considerably below recommended levels, so there was great scope for enriched eggs to improve public health.

“By eating feed that has organic selenium added to it, the birds’ immune systems benefit as well – and the eggs stay fresher for longer,” she added. “And it isn’t expensive: Having a healthy product that isn’t a ridiculous price is crucial.”

Processing solutions

Sarah Gibbins, divisional managing director at Noble Egg Innovations, said that eggs could be used in a vast range of food and non-food products.

“In the UK, 3000t of egg products are processed each week, but worryingly we’ve seen 40% of the UK market go to the EU over the past seven years. We’re very short of eggs at the moment and we need more production, especially if we’re going to keep imports out and build exports.”

Food trends tended to follow those in the US, where processors were extremely focused on changes in consumer demand, not just customer demand, said Ms Gibbins.

“Over there, egg consumption is just rising and rising. You have to understand how the consumer thinks if you’re to change their habits – so we need to communicate with them differently.”

New ideas that were taking off in the US included omelettes served in fast food outlets and egg white muffin sandwiches.

“Some 92% of people consider eggs to be part of a healthy diet,” she said. But there were other potentially massive markets for the oils, lipids and proteins that could be extracted from eggs. These included uses in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, as well as in medicines, burn creams, and beauty products.

“We need the technology and research to develop these products,” said Ms Gibbins. “And we have to remember that what the consumer wanted yesterday is not the same as today, and it certainly won’t be the same tomorrow.”