Canada’s egg industry has cracked the code for increased sales — all-day breakfast at your favourite fast-food chains.
“Egg consumption is up in Canada, and all-day breakfasts have been the main driver,” said Sylvain Charlebois, senior director of the agri-food analytics lab at Dalhousie University.
“Eggs are primarily consumed in the morning, and now all of a sudden, we have many Canadians consuming eggs all day long. It’s allowed the commodity to expand its own market.”
That’s certainly the case in Alberta, where the total hen allotment has surged — to 2.5 million hens last year from a little over two million hens in 2014.
“We’ve had a steady increase in quota over the last five years, and that makes it a little easier to expand,” said Beatrice Visser, chair of Egg Farmers of Alberta. “Growth is always a positive thing.”
Things really took off in 2017, when fast-food giants like McDonald’s and A&W began offering egg-based breakfast sandwiches after 11 a.m.
Consumers jumped on the breakfast-for-dinner bandwagon.
In the first year of offering all-day breakfasts, sales of egg-based products were up 25 per cent at McDonald’s, or 35 million more eggs than were sold in 2016. Last year, Canadians consumed more than 700 million breakfast sandwiches, an eight per cent increase from 2016.
As a result, egg sales in 2018 saw a six per cent increase over 2017, marking a dozen straight years of growth. And during that time, per capita egg consumption has increased by 28 per cent.
“The all-day breakfasts have really changed the face of the industry,” said Visser, who farms near Barrhead. “It’s caused the industry to grow already, and if this trend continues, it will probably grow some more.”
But the story isn’t just about the change in Canadians’ fast-food preferences. Eggs have also benefited from a PR makeover in recent years.
Once linked to heart disease because of their cholesterol levels, eggs have regained traction as a healthy, inexpensive protein and processed food ingredient.
“Over the last two years, eggs have benefited from favourable scientific messaging,” said Charlebois. “Generally speaking, eggs are now looked upon very favourably by the nutrition community. A lot of studies are now encouraging people to eat more eggs.”
And as consumers begin to recognize that cholesterol from eggs is not necessarily bad for them, they’re shifting their diets to include more eggs and egg-based products.
“The wary consumer is now feeling free to purchase eggs and eat more eggs,” said Visser. “Eggs are convenient and delicious and not really expensive.
“So they’ve really taken off as an option.”
Recent changes to Canada’s Food Guide reflect that, Charlebois added.
“I’m not surprised that eggs have gained in popularity. Eggs are now seen as a very natural and quite convenient ingredient for many food products.”
Though eggs aren’t as prominent in the new guide as they were in the old, they still have a “starring role,” said Tim Lambert, chief executive officer of Egg Farmers of Canada.
“At the end of the day, Canada’s Food Guide is all about getting Canadians the nutrition they need,” he said.
“Egg consumption has been on the rise for a dozen years, and we hope to see this positive trend continue as Canadians focus on whole, natural foods as part of a balanced diet.”
As the Food Guide’s focus shifts from a mandated number of servings a day to a more portion-based plan, the next generation of consumers “may look at eggs very differently,” said Charlebois.
“It will be interesting to see how Canadians actually react to the Food Guide and how it’s structured now, but overall, I think most Canadians will continue to consume eggs on a regular basis,” he said.
The growing local food movement will also help with that, said Visser.
In recent years, egg farmers have increased their connection with consumers by sharing information about egg production and nutrition at grocery stores, elementary schools, and even the Calgary Stampede.
“That’s actually helped a lot. People can ask a farmer their questions directly and gain confidence in the food that they’re eating,” said Visser.
“It gives them peace of mind — talking to those farmers, looking them in the eyes, and knowing that they feed those eggs to their families as well. It makes them feel better knowing the farmer is comfortable eating those eggs.”
But the old perception that eggs are unhealthy is still “hovering over the industry’s head,” Charlebois added, saying the sector will need to continue to address that if it hopes to see its sales trends continue.
“For egg producers, increased sales are obviously good news, but there are headwinds coming,” said Charlebois.
“Overall, it’s been a good two years for eggs. But it’s difficult to say whether this trend will continue.”