25 August 2020, 08:09 AM
  • Consumers cracked through millions of them during lockdown, but will the trend continue? Sally-Jayne Wright investigates
Trend Watch: An Appetite for Eggs

In the 12 weeks to 14th June, year-on-year retail egg sales rose by 27%. As the population switched to eating three meals a day at home, demand soared. Our farmers’ market asked us to re-use egg boxes because of a national packaging pulp shortage. Then a stranger approached us in Sainsbury’s offering free home delivery of premium eggs provided we could take 30 – more of which later.

Eggs were doing well before lockdown, weren’t they?
Yes, the national passion for baking plus the popularity of brunch drove up sales. Sporty types and dieticians alike see high protein eggs as ideal breakfast, snack and training food.

Are eggs so very healthy?
Yes. As well as protein, they contain vitamins A, D, B and B12, lutein and zeaxanthin that can help prevent eye damage in old age.

Am I right that even with high cholesterol, I’m no longer limited to four a week?
The cream or fat you cook with matters more than the cholesterol in the egg. A daily egg may even lower your risk of cardiovascular disease according to a Chinese study of half a million adults completed in 2007.

And the advice not to eat raw eggs if you’re pregnant or immune-suppressed?
You should be fine provided you stick to Lion-branded hens’ (not duck or quail) eggs sourced in the UK.

Give me a surprising eggy fact.
Just 1.5% of eggs sold are organic. Roughly two-thirds of eggs sold are free-range and a third from caged birds. 2% are barn.

Were battery hens banned?
Yes, in 2012, they were replaced by caged birds which live in colonies, 60 or 80 to a cage. Don’t be misled by the term cage-free which does not mean free-range. It means birds kept free-running inside a barn.

Are brown eggs healthier than white?
We Brits think so but there’s no difference; the breed of hen determines shell colour. Yolk colour is determined by what the hen eats. Just as salmon farmers can pick the shade of pink from a colour chart, so egg producers can vary the feed for the desired yellow.

I love those Clarence Court Burford Browns.
A higher proportion of yolk to white makes eggs taste richer, and golden quiches are more appealing than insipid ones. That’s why Truro-based St. Ewe developed their award-winning Rich Yolk eggs for chefs, claiming “rich and delicious tasting, deep orange yolks to give cakes, pasta and patisserie a showstopping look”. Arlington Whites from Cackleberry Farm in Gloucestershire have vibrant yolks, too.

What about that pretty hen on the box?
The picture of say, a Columbian Blacktail, gives the impression that by buying them, you’re supporting rare breeds. But most commercial laying hens are hybrids.

Which eggs would serious foodies enjoy?
Egg from Marans hens resemble chocolate Easter eggs. Duck eggs are higher in protein, bigger and richer than hen’s eggs, brilliant for baking and Scotch eggs. Wild gull’s eggs are an exquisite, expensive and seasonal delicacy available through licensed game dealers and some fishmongers, usually ready-boiled.

How can we ensure the eggs we’re selling are high-welfare?
Buy organic or from small flocks i.e. under 4,000 birds. Jane Howorth MBE of the British Hen Welfare Trust advises asking your supplier whether free-range birds have access to cover. Without it, they won’t roam freely for fear of predators. You could also ask if you can do a spot visit.

Do happy hens lay tastier eggs?
Taste is subjective. In Series 2, Episode 7 of Channel 4’s Food Unwrapped, presenter Jimmy Doherty was blindfolded and couldn’t tell the difference between caged, barn, organic and high welfare eggs. Storage and freshness affect taste quality so keep eggs refrigerated and away from odours. 

You mentioned a stranger in Sainsbury’s who approached you about eggs…?
That was caterer Nik Williams, who, able to buy Clarence Court Burford Browns wholesale but unable to trade, sold them to neighbours. Demand grew and soon he was delivering 800 eggs a week.

What eggy opportunities are there for indies?
- With restaurants struggling, their suppliers will need new outlets for both high quality and more unusual eggs like pheasant and quail. They may be very open to negotiation.
- Small but delicious pullet eggs from teenaged hens are often wasted because supermarkets demand large eggs. Join Waitrose in championing them and help prevent food waste.
- Negotiate a good price for your customer and it’s win win for everyone.
- Can your supplier do a deal on mixed weight eggs?
- Delivery of breakfast goods has seen strong growth. Could you do order-and-collect or deliver eggs with morning goods like coffee?

Will healthy, versatile eggs continue to trend?
You bet, and as supply was stretched even before lockdown, we predict price rises. If we enter deep recession, some consumers will put value for money before welfare; we saw this when organic sales dipped in the Credit Crunch.

The good news is fewer eggs will be wasted. We hope that, educated by lockdown shortages, consumers will be more accepting of every colour and size.

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