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Eggs are very much on the menu. In the US, their dynamism not only puts dwindling fresh meat sales to shame, but it seems that protein-packed eggs are turning into a threat for carbohydrate-based breakfast cereal. As eggs shed their high-cholesterol stigma, sales will increasingly be fuelled by rising demand from mature consumers, providing excellent long-term growth prospects.
Consumers who love protein love eggs, and they certainly have a lot to offer. Eggs are tasty, nutritious, versatile and relatively cheap. Plus, frying one up does not require an advanced master class in haute cuisine.
The high-protein trend originated in the US, where eggs are benefitting from consumers searching out alternatives to meat. As growing numbers of people tune into environmental and health issues, they start to realise that their meat consumption is already on the high side, and that meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner is not the way forward.
Eggs are a convenient vegetarian alternative, with one large egg providing almost 7g of protein. In 2014, fresh egg volume sales rose by 3% in the US (the global average was 2%), while fresh meat volumes declined by 1%. This would indicate that consumers are ever more discerning about their protein intake augmentation strategies.
Talking of strategies, if you eat more of one thing, in this case protein, you need to cut down on another, especially if you are watching your weight, as many high-protein-diet adherents tend to do. And it is carbohydrate foods, which are biting the dust. Eggs are a popular breakfast food in many countries – this is certainly true for the US – and breakfast cereals, which are veritable carbohydrate bombs, are therefore in the firing line.
As already pointed out, fresh eggs achieved a volume gain of 3% in 2014 in the US, which marked their most dynamic performance over the 2009-2014 review period, reflecting the continuing rise of the high protein trend. Breakfast cereals, meanwhile, declined by 3% in 2013, followed by another 2% drop in 2014. Flakes were particularly badly hit in 2014, with sales sliding by 4%.
This pattern is not only observable in the US, but also in a number of other countries, where the high-protein trend is gaining momentum. In Australia, for example, where eggs are also a traditional breakfast item, flake value sales slid by over 5% in 2014, while fresh egg volumes recorded a 4% gain. In the UK, the trend is similar.
Eggs haven’t reached their zenith yet. The way they are regarded by health professionals, and, ultimately, consumers, is still very much in the process of shifting in their favour.
Eggs used to be maligned as a heart disease-causing food for their naturally high content of cholesterol. Research carried out in recent years has vindicated them to a certain extent, concluding that it is not dietary cholesterol that is primarily responsible for high blood cholesterol, but that saturated fat is the chief culprit. As a result, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) decided in 2010 to desist from setting a recommended limit for dietary cholesterol.
At the moment, the US’s Dietary Guidelines For Americans, published in 2010, stipulate a dietary cholesterol intake limit of 300mg per day. An egg yolk contains around two thirds of this. It is rumoured that the latest edition of guidelines, due sometime this spring, will no longer warn consumers that dietary cholesterol is a concern for cardiovascular health, effectively turning eggs into an ad lib food.
It is middle-aged and elderly consumers who are most worried about heart health, and an official removal of the cholesterol stigma from eggs is bound to boost consumption among mature age groups. It is not only the weight management aspect that makes this protein-rich food so attractive to them. Besides protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, eggs are high in leucine, an essential amino acid known to stimulate muscle synthesis.
This is why eggs (and particularly egg whites) have long been a dietary staple for body builders and gym addicts. In the future, it is this property that is going to make eggs increasingly sought after by mature adults, including the elderly. The progressive loss of muscle tissue that occurs during ageing has a number of negative health consequences, which consumers will want to avoid, including a lowering of the body’s basal metabolic rate, leading to the accumulation of body fat, as well as serious health conditions, such as osteoporosis. Hence, in the long term, continued strong demand for eggs is pretty much assured.