Are Plant-Based Eggs the Wave of the Future?

In Chapter 12 of the textbook, we discuss developments over the years in the intensely competitive egg market. Many of the 65,000 egg farmers in the United States have continued to produce eggs using traditional methods. But some egg farmers have adopted cage-free methods that allow chickens to have sufficient room to move around. Using cage-free methods increases a farmer’s costs but some consumers are willing to pay more for these eggs. More recently, some egg farmers have turned to selling “pastured eggs” laid by chickens that are allowed to roam freely outside. Raising pastured eggs has even higher costs than raising eggs using cage-free methods, but pastured eggs also sell for higher prices.

As consumer willingness to spend on eggs produced in ways that involve more humane treatment of chickens increases, we’d expect that egg farmers will adapt by embracing these methods. But in 2021, a development occurred in the egg market that was much more difficult for egg farmers to respond to. Some consumers have been moving away from animal products to plant-based replacements. These consumers have a variety of concerns about animal products: Some consumers have ethical concerns about consuming any animal products, others believes consuming these products may have negative health effects, while others are concerned by what they believe to be the negative effects of farming on the environment.

Many people are familiar with the Impossible company’s “impossible burger,” a hamburger made from soy and potatoes rather than from beef. But it’s less well known that several companies have begun selling eggs made from plants. San Francisco-based Eat Just, Inc. has begun selling in the United States eggs made from mung beans and in October 2021 was authorized to begin selling these eggs in Europe. The Swiss firm Nestlé under its Garden Gourmet brand has also begun selling in Europe eggs made from soy.  Nestlé’s eggs are sold in liquid form and  are primarily intended as a substitute for natural eggs in cooking. 

As of late 2021, plant-based eggs have captured only a tiny slice of the egg market. But if their popularity should increase significantly, it will be bad news for egg farmers. While many egg farmers have been able to adapt to changes in how they produce eggs, they lack the specialized equipment to produce plant-based eggs or access to the distribution and marketing resources necessary to sell them.

The market for eggs may be about to be disrupted in a way that will force many egg farmers out of the industry.

Sources: Corinne Gretler and Thomas Buckley, “Nestlé Tests Plant-Based Frontier With Vegan Eggs and Shrimp,” bloomberg.com, October 6, 2021;  Aine Quinn, “Fake Eggs From Mung Beans Get Closer to Reality in Europe,” bloomberg.com, October 20, 2021; Jon Swartz, “Eat Just’s Plant-Based Egg Products to Come to Another 5,000 Retail Outlets,” marketwatch.com, September 2, 2020;  Deena Shanker, “Faux-Egg Maker Eat Just Raises $200 Million More in Latest Round,” bloomberg.com, March 3, 2021; and Jon Emont, “Real Meat That Vegetarians Can Eat,” wsj.com, March 6 2021. 

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