Eggs are the latest category to see a surge in plant-based challengers

Like many others with egg allergies or sensitivities, Nicole Atchison knows eggs aren’t just used in scrambles — they show up in all kinds of products and recipes.

So food company executives set out to develop a plant-based alternative that would work in crème brûlée as well as in a breakfast burrito.

The result is AcreMade, the first consumer product from Minneapolis-based Puris, a leading supplier of pea protein.

“We really wanted to bring something that was allergen-friendly and could be used in multiple ways, not just a scramble,” said Atchison, CEO of Puris Holdings and AcreMade. “Ultimately it has to satisfy taste and appeal, and we think we have a great product.”

The powdered egg substitute, mostly made with nut yolks, has had a limited retail launch since it hit the market this fall. The initial focus is on foodservice, where Atchison hopes chefs can unlock product potential and enhance new categories.

“That will reveal to people that plant-based foods are just delicious foods,” Atchison said.

Vegan egg alternatives have been slower to arrive than other plant-based categories, but they’ve grown just as fast — from $3 million in sales in 2018 to $39 million last year, according to Good Food Institute and SPINS sales data. But only a fraction of Americans — about 2% of households — reported buying plant-based eggs in 2021.

“It’s important to understand who our core customers are in the first place,” Atchison says. “People who lean plant-based, looking for more sustainable options or who have egg allergies.”

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Globally, the market for vegan eggs could surpass $3 billion over the next decade, according to a Fact.MR report, although hen egg consumption is expected to continue to rise.

Pasture protein

Like much of the food industry here, Minnesota has quietly become a hub for plant-based eggs.

Just Egg, which accounts for the majority of plant-based egg sales, has had a manufacturing facility in the western Minnesota town of Appleton since 2019.

Almost all of the mung bean protein used in the company’s runny egg alternative is extracted in Appleton and shipped to facilities that produce the finished product.

“Separating protein from beans requires talent, proprietary processing and a supportive community. We find all that and more in Appleton,” said Josh Tetrick, CEO of Eat Just Inc., when announcing the purchase of the facility in 2019.

Today, the factory employs 50 people, about 20% of the small California-based company’s headcount. Eat Just Inc. added 10,000 square feet of production space in Minnesota this year and intends to continue to expand as demand increases.

Atchison says there is room for — and a need for — more players in the egg alternative market.

“We think their product is very good, and there is room for more than one option,” he said. “Eggs are used in a lot of different areas that need to be addressed, and AcreMade is working on a few of them.”

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At a recent event for Naturally Minnesota, University of Minnesota-based ag-food booster AcreMade was highlighted in cheesecake rather than an egg-focused dish. This brand is also increasingly featured in Craft & Crew restaurants such as Block in St. Louis Park.

The egg is still broken

For the egg industry, a decade of rapid growth in per capita egg consumption peaked in 2019 when the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain problems and bird flu disrupted production.

Egg prices are expected to remain high until 2023 as the flocks of chickens destroyed by bird flu will be repopulated. That creates an opportunity for brands like Just Egg and AcreMade to make their case to consumers.

But the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) expects Americans to continue to eat more eggs in the coming years. By 2031, it is estimated that 310 eggs will be consumed per person each year, up from 280 per capita today.

“Despite recording high price levels, shell eggs continue to be a competitively priced protein with the added benefit of offering consumers a wider range of food applications than other proteins,” notes a recent USDA report. “Of course, there’s no substitute for baking a holiday treat.”

In fact, egg substitutes that recreate the binding function of eggs – though not the look or taste – have been on the market for a long time and have become a staple of vegan baking. New egg-substitute brands are trying to raise the profile of products like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have done with veggie burgers.

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The egg industry struggled with bruising over Tetrick’s vegan mayo brand a few years ago, but for now it’s hands fully on top of bird flu and the supply chain.

“While egg producers struggle to provide alternatives to people who don’t consume eggs, they are skeptical that plant-based eggs can replicate all the nutrients and functions of eggs,” according to a 2021 article in the Journal of International Food & Agribusiness Marketing. “The egg industry does not see plant-based eggs as a potential competitor to their products.”

Atchison said it doesn’t have to be a direct competition.

“Is there a way for these products to coexist to create a more sustainable food system?” he said. “Egg producers see the same things we’re talking about: the need to diversify food sources, reduce carbon footprints and add resilience to food production.”

As overall plant-based sales begin to increase and the industry matures, Atchison says “there’s work to be done.”

“Plant-based is trying to operate within a system that has long been built around the food available at the time,” he said. “We didn’t give up and figured out how to deal with a generation that still hasn’t decided how it relates to food – and offer great products that aren’t just what they’re used to eating.”

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