Get Cracking: It’s boom time for egg farmers

All-day breakfast has the egg sector scrambling to keep up with demand

The latest hot trend in fast food is boosting the fortunes of egg farmers in Alberta and across the country.

Beatrice Visser.
photo: Supplied

“Egg sales have gone up all across Canada because of the all-day breakfast,” said Egg Farmers of Alberta chair Beatrice Visser. “We have increased the consumption.”

That’s putting it mildly.

Egg sales have been rising for more than a decade but really took off last year, soaring 6.6 per cent. That coincided with McDonald’s and A&W offering breakfast items all day long.

“Consumption of breakfast sandwiches is now up to 700 million annually in Canada, an eight per cent (increase) over last year,” market research company NPD Group reported last month.

“Many quick-service operators such as Tim Hortons and McDonald’s have contributed to this growth as they have continuously introduced new breakfast sandwiches and innovative spinoffs on breakfast sandwiches that include wraps, bagels, and pastries.”

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At McDonald’s alone, egg sales jumped 25 per cent after the company introduced all-day breakfasts at most of its Canadian locations last year. A&W quickly followed suit and Tim Hortons is now piloting the concept.

That means the country’s 1,000 egg farmers (about 170 of them are in Alberta) have had to get cracking to expand production (which surpassed 732 million dozen eggs last year).

“We’ve seen a lot of growth in Canada for the past 11 years — the breakfast program has contributed a lot to that,” said Visser, who raises her flock of 24,000 hens near Barrhead.

The NPD Group attributes the growth, in part, to millennials, who are showing a fondness for inexpensive ‘grab and go’ meals that are easy to eat.

Many people are adding a large snack, or fourth meal to their daily routine, added Visser.

“People are finding them very convenient other times of the day other than breakfast,” she said.

There’s also been a change in how eggs are viewed.

Two decades ago, there was a lot of focus on cholesterol and some avoided eggs or limited their consumption in order to reduce cholesterol in their diet. But a better understanding of nutrition has changed that attitude and eggs are increasingly seen as a good (and inexpensive) source of protein.

“I think there is an understanding of the nutrition in eggs,” said Visser. “They are used in a lot of diets, like the Dash diet and the Mediterranean diet. It’s great for people who are gluten intolerant. A lot of them eat more eggs.”

Fast-food outlets have also expanded their egg offerings, with items such as scrambled egg wraps enjoying strong sales.

“Restaurants have changed in the past few years and have become more creative with their dishes and eggs are often a part of it,” said Visser. “I think the egg has been rediscovered.”

So how is all this playing out on the farm?

“Some of the extra consumption is being addressed with expansion,” she said. “It’s spread around. It’s not like big metropolis barns are going up.”

There was no new entrant program in Alberta last year since the program is being reviewed and revamped. But prior to that, there were about 25 new entrants each year.

Surprisingly, many don’t have a farming background.

“Most new entrants are people just getting in,” said Visser. “They have a job working in the city or town in some other occupation and just want a change.”

The lack of a farming background often means “it’s a tough go” at the start, but the new entrants have been rising to the challenge, she added.

“We have new entrants who are doing well. They ask lots of questions and they work hard at it. They’re creative and are doing well.”

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, she has also published two collections of poetry and a biography about a Sikh civil rights activist. Her freelance work has appeared in numerous publications across Canada.

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