So just what is driving the renaissance in egg sales? Philip Clarke weighs up the latest market research from the British Egg Information Service.
It is common knowledge within the egg sector that the market is on an upward trajectory.
This is evidenced by the fact that, while production has soared in the past 12 months, egg traders are still scratching around for supplies.
Defra figures show that the layer flock is now about two million birds bigger than this time last year. On top of that, imports have also climbed, both in shell and processed formats.
Yet wholesale markets are firm and retail sales are booming.
Latest figures from Kantar WorldPanel point to 5.3% increase in volume sales over the last 12 months, sustaining the upward trend of recent years (Table 1).
If applied across food service as well as retail, the British Egg Information Service (BEIS) estimates that annual per capita egg consumption will have climbed from 185 eggs in 2014 to the mid-190s this year.
And, over the longer term, retail volume purchases have gone up by an impressive 22% in just seven years, with most of that growth occurring in the free-range sector.
So what is driving the market? Why are eggs suddenly back in fashion? New research from BEIS sheds some interesting light on what’s going on.
The numbers indicate that, while some of the increase over the past seven years is down to population growth, two-thirds of it has been driven by increased household consumption (Table 2).
With over 95% of all households including egg in their shopping baskets, the number of shell eggs bought per household has climbed from 186 in 2008 to 213 in 2015 – a 14.5% increase.
“This is hugely encouraging when we think back to the days not so long ago when egg sales were on a downward path,” says BEIS director Amanda Cryer.
Even more positive is the fact that much of this growth now seems to be coming from the younger end of the market (Table 3).
The greatest volume of egg purchases is still by housewives in the 45-64 year old age group, at 222 eggs a year per household. But the figures show that housewives under the age of 28 have the highest rate of growth in volume purchases – up 33% over the past seven years – closely followed by those in the 28-34 year old age bracket.
“We do this research about once every three years and this is the first time I can remember seeing this trend,” says Mrs Cryer. “Traditionally the market has been much more skewed towards the older end.”
The other big positive is that this growth in volume has largely been achieved without prices coming down. Admittedly, the past 12 months have seen retailers battling for customer footfall with aggressive price promotions, but over the seven-year period average egg prices have actually increased.
While the quantitative research provides a good outline drawing of what’s going on in the egg market, the real colour is added by the qualitative research.
This was conducted by Roger Parkyn Associates on behalf of BEIS and was based on discussions with 10 different focus groups, covering a wide age range (23-65 years old), and a diverse social and geographic spread.
The most notable thing, says Mrs Cryer, is that all the top of mind associations with eggs are positive. “We have gone from a period (in the 1990s) when the associations were negative, through a period of ambivalence, to a situation today where they are entirely positive.”
As in the past, consumers have highlighted eggs as being a good comfort food, or bringing back childhood memories, or being part of the family breakfast – the so-called psychological factors. But even more so, the focus groups thought of eggs as being healthy and nutritious.
They were also seen as versatile, simple, good value and having a long shelf life.
But there were still issues about the location and presentation of eggs in the supermarket, which is often uninspiring. “All too often, eggs are simply put in the cooking ingredients section, rather than the meal section of the supermarket, though consumers highlighted that some retailers, such as Asda, do go in for multi-siting of eggs, which helps.”
The research also shows that the previous “inhibitors” to buying eggs have slipped right down the public consciousness – in particular concerns about cholesterol and salmonella.
This has been reflected in a marked shift in the numbers of eggs consumers believe it is OK to eat each week (Table 4).
“Back in 2008, 45% of adults believed intake should be limited to three or less a week. But now just 26% think that,” says Mrs Cryer. “And when we asked them why, only a third of them mentioned anything to do with heart disease or cholesterol – it was more along the lines that you shouldn’t eat too much of any one food source.”
At the other end of the scale, 42% now believe it is OK to eat six or more eggs a week, compared with just 19% seven years ago. The research also shows that it is typically the younger age groups that feel this way (Table 5). The older age group – the over 55s – tend to stick to the old ways of thinking.
“The report suggests that a tipping point in attitudes has now been reached,” says Mrs Cryer. “Many in the younger groups could not really remember hearing of the cholesterol limits story.”
Similarly with salmonella, many younger consumers are not aware that there ever was a problem, and have never even heard of Edwina Currie. For others, the feeling is that the industry has dealt with the problem, though there are some lingering concerns in relation to eating eggs during pregnancy.
There is also a degree of confusion remaining about feeding eggs to babies.
“This is an area we need to do more work on,” says Mrs Cryer. “Previously, the medical advice was that introducing eggs too early might lead to an allergy. But the advice now is the opposite. You should give eggs to babies from about six months, when they are being weaned. This is when resistance to allergies can be developed.”
Perhaps the most encouraging evidence to emerge from the focus groups was the extent to which eggs are now accepted as being positive for a healthy lifestyle.
“It’s always been understood that eggs contain protein, but it now seems to be much more front of mind and has been given a new lease of life,” says Mrs Cryer.
There are strong associations between eating eggs with sport and fitness, but eggs are increasingly being recommended in relation to weight control and satiety.
“There is hardly a diet or eating plan out there now that does not include eggs in some way. Weight Watchers and Slimming World both recommend eggs very strongly. They are no longer held back by lingering concerns over cholesterol.
“And it’s not just about calories, it’s about health. Strong is the new skinny. Eggs are valued for their nutritional content, and some consumers now see eggs as an alternative to meat for family meals.”
As well as the health attributes, the BEIS research also uncovered some changes in breakfast habits, with more people now valuing a good meal before heading out for the day.
“There is renewed interest in having eggs for breakfast, due to their filling benefits,” says Mrs Cryer. “More mothers seem to be giving eggs to their kids ahead of the school day. And there is a strong trend to fast food restaurants, and even egg restaurants, making it easier for people to have breakfast on the go.”
Marketing plan for 2016
Marketing is a fundamental part of the BEIS’s remit, with around £1m made available by packers to get the messages across.
The market data suggests it is already getting things right, though the research indicates that further growth can be achieved by continuing to highlight the nutritional value of eggs and promote their use in main meals.
“Consumers are especially keen on finding new recipes, and that is what we are trying to do, both in print formats and via our eggrecipes website and app,” says Mrs Cryer.
The BEIS is now finalising its 2016 campaign and will include a new collection of recipes, delivered both online and with a new recipe booklet – the first in 12 years – distributed direct to consumers.
The theme of the campaign is #Eggcentric – designed to appeal to younger people who like to be different.
A social media campaign using the #Eggcentric hashtag will encourage sharing of the recipes by bloggers and vloggers, as well as on the British Lion eggs’ Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube social media channels.
BEIS will also be retaining the services of brand ambassador Lucy Mecklenburgh, and taking on a further two celebrities to help promote the culinary and nutritional benefits of eggs.
“Eggs are in an enviable position,” says Mrs Cryer. “Consumption is growing, inhibiting factors are at an all-time low and there is more confidence than ever in the nutritional benefits.
“But there is also no doubt that the potential exists to grow the market even further – and that is what were are aiming for in 2016.”