The functional food business is taking off. Consumers see more and more fortified foods when they roll their carts through the grocery aisles, but do they understand what they are buying or how one brand is different from the next?
It is more important than ever to educate consumers about the benefits of functional foods. The egg industry can take a few cues from the US dairy industry, which has been producing and selling functional foods since the 1930s, when fluid milk processors started adding vitamin D to milk to help eliminate rickets.
There are many reasons why fortified milk is a staple in human diets throughout the world. One reason is consumer awareness. Consumers understand that drinking milk may help build strong bones and may help prevent rickets in children. One way dairy processors in the US have achieved mass awareness is through cooperation.
In the early 1990s, fluid milk processors in California agreed to allocate three cents from each gallon of milk sold to fund joint efforts to promote milk consumption. From this effort, the California Milk Processor Board was born, and it eventually created the “got milk?” campaign, which now features celebrity-endorsed advertisements, merchandise and apparel.
By combining efforts, the CMPB uses marketing, advertising, social media and public relations programs to build overarching national education campaigns to raise awareness of the benefits of consuming milk. Consumers of all ages can experience the “got milk?” website, print advertisements, television commercials, events and point-of-purchase retail displays at different touch points in their lives – reading magazines, watching TV, surfing the web, shopping at the grocery store, etc.
Just as processors within the milk industry cooperate to create broader awareness, so do those involved in the US egg industry. The American Egg Board is the US egg producers’ link to consumer awareness and its efforts mirror those of the CMPB. The AEB rallied together to create the long-standing “Incredible Edible Egg” moniker, which is publicized throughout the US to help increase consumer demand for eggs.
Because of the AEB and the CMPB efforts, consumers understand the benefits of incorporating eggs and milk into their diets. In both campaigns, the specific brands of eggs and milk are not a focus.
With the foundation in place, what options are available to help egg producers’ brands stand out from the others, especially within the specialty egg market?
Functionality - eggs and omega-3s
Egg producers can use a number of different tools in their marketing to help communicate why their eggs are different from competitors’ eggs – we see this through different packaging design, advertisements, in-store promotions, etc.
The functional food space takes consumer awareness to a different level. For example, consumers in the US may make purchases based on an attention-grabbing label or a great coupon deal, but many of them are also looking out for their family’s health.
Look specifically at the ever-growing omega-3 functional food market. As omega-3s help to support health and development at all stages of life, these fatty acids are big business as well. A recent Packaged Facts report shows global omega-3 food/beverage sales in 2010 were at $8 billion, a 17% increase over 2009.
Many egg producers now offer specialty eggs fortified with omega-3s or promote this fortification on carton labels. Name brands and store brands alike claim “added omega-3 fatty acids” on packaging, but very few clarify which type of omega-3 or the amount of fatty acids the eggs contain.
Omega-3 fatty acids, often referred to as “good fats,” are essential fatty acids – something the human body cannot make and must obtain from the foods we eat. That being said, not all omega-3s are created equal; the human body uses some of the fatty acids more efficiently than it uses others.
Docosahexaenoic acid: DHA is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid that supports brain, eye and heart health throughout all stages of life. Good sources of DHA include fatty fish (e.g. salmon) and algae – fish get their DHA through the microalgae in their food chain.
Eicosapentaenoic acid: EPA, also found in fatty fish and algae, helps to support cardiovascular health. Of the three most common omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA are the easiest for the body to use.
Alphalinolenic acid: ALA is found primarily in flaxseed, soy, walnuts and canola oils. The body converts ALA to EPA and DHA; however, the conversion is very inefficient. ALA has no known independent benefits on brain or eye health and there is insufficient data to support its role in cardiovascular health.
Hens fed a diet rich in omega-3s produce omega-3 eggs. The resulting eggs can contain as much as six times the amount of omega-3s found naturally in regular eggs. One way of doing this is enhancing the hen feed with flaxseed. Supplementing feed with fish or algal oil is another option. Of note, laying hens fed diets rich in preformed algal DHA can produce eggs with 120-150 mg of DHA per egg.
The first brands to promote omega-3 fortified products did not break down the source or the amount of omega-3s. In contrast, other specialty egg brands, including Oakdell Egg Farms, Gold Circle Farm and EggSense in the US, and DHA Omega-3 Golden Egg in the United Arab Emirates, include DHA omega-3 on the carton and a breakdown of the omega-3 type.
To make an egg brand stand out, producers need to go beyond superficial labeling to clearly state the benefits for consumers. Highlighting ingredient products and sources, nutritional information or other unique properties of eggs can go a long way in educating consumers and distinguishing one egg brand from another.
Egg producers worldwide can collaborate to help educate consumers on the health benefits of eggs. Building a solid foundation of general awareness first gives egg producers the opportunity to dive deeper into the branding and marketing of their specific eggs.