Q: How did egg sales fare in 2007 with prices setting all-time record highs? In other words, are egg sales vulnerable to price changes?
A: According to Nielsen data, average retail prices for 12-count large eggs in supermarket channels increased over 20 percent from 2006 to 2007, yet most retailers continued to experience heavy demand well after the holidays. In fact, retail demand during the month of January was unusually high and many producers were reporting that their sales were much higher than originally forecasted. Clearly, consumers recognize that even with these higher retail prices, eggs remain a great value, and that the demand for eggs is inelastic; that is, the quantity demanded does not change when the price changes.
Q: Over the past year in particular, eggs have received an exceedingly high level of good press. Will that translate into additional sales? Why and when?
A: We are pleased with the extremely positive momentum behind eggs over the last year, especially in the consumer media. In 2007, the "incredible edible egg" received more than 1 billion positive media impressions. Frankly, positive media coverage for eggs has never been better, and we feel that's due to a couple of reasons. First, the egg industry, through the Egg Nutrition Center (ENC), has been successfully funding and publishing nutrition research studies about the positive benefits of including eggs in a healthy diet. At AEB, we've been working hard to get the results of these studies out to media editors with tactics like deskside briefings, electronic press kits, media events, blogs, satellite media tours and more. Our positive nutrition message includes the fact that an egg is packed with 13 essential vitamins and minerals, high-quality protein, healthy unsaturated fats and antioxidants, and all for only 70 calories. But perhaps more significantly, the media have willingly covered the new egg and cholesterol story, namely, that more than 30 years of research have concluded that healthy adults can enjoy eggs without significantly impacting their risk of heart disease. All of this has helped eggs to go from a food that was once on the "foods to avoid" list, to one that is now on the "foods to healthfully enjoy" list.
One excellent example of how eggs are now recognized as an important, healthy food was presented in a new book written by David Grotto, 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life. This book compiles a list of 101 "super" foods that no diet should be without, and he included eggs in the list. It's a guide of what to eat (rather than foods to avoid), and in the section on eggs, Grotto touches on many of the AEB platforms. He points out that eggs contain the highest-quality protein of any food and references the Journal of the American College of Nutrition research on the "hunger-fighting power" of eggs. He also covers the benefits of choline, lutein and zeaxanthin. Grotto has been a practicing RD for over 20 years in both conventional and integrative medical centers as well as in private practice. He is currently a national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, a scientific advisor for Men's Health magazine and advisory chair for Produce for Kids, PBS Kids' national campaign to promote healthy eating among children.
We strongly believe that all of this positive media coverage already has contributed to egg sales, and will continue to do so. Eggs are back in the food world.
Q: Could you highlight some of your key programs to boost egg consumption in 2008?
A: My feeling is that our new, integrated marketing communications program will have the biggest impact on egg consumption, both in the short term and long term. This includes AEB's 360-degee advertising approach, along with our aggressive nutrition public relations efforts. AEB's new advertising campaign re-launched the "incredible edible egg" brand. The iconic "cracked egg" campaign aimed at moms with kids at home delivers important news about the health benefits of eggs by emphasizing the all-natural, high-quality protein only found in eggs. The campaign launched in September 2007 via a variety of media outlets, including national television, radio, magazines, the Internet and outdoor (billboards and truck signage), which will continue in 2008. Because moms are increasingly spending more time online, AEB will continue to maximize "new media" technology of the internet (Web site advertising, blogs, video games, social networking, e-mail marketing, and a lot more) with the more traditional advertising methods (TV, radio, print) for greater impact and frequency of our advertising message to our target audience. The media strategy is to reach moms via a variety of media touch points.
AEB has a very aggressive and effective nutrition public relations program. We could not ask for better science to provide the messages for our consumer publicity campaigns. It is obvious that the media is very receptive to the new news about eggs as the positive egg coverage has been overwhelming. As ENC provides the science for stronger messages on the health benefits of eggs, AEB's nutrition PR efforts will continue in 2008 to build on the media momentum to eggspose the good egg to consumers, which will translate to even greater egg demand next year.
Our work with the quick-serve restaurants would be next in terms of impact. Breakfast is one of the only day parts that are growing in the foodservice channel, and we are working on menu development projects with major chains such as Burger King, Wendy's, Panera, Subway and others to increase their support for and menuing of eggs. This year alone, AEB expects our efforts to result in hundreds of millions of incremental eggs used in the foodservice channel.
Q: Has your relationship with the Egg Nutrition Center changed, and if so, how?
A: Since 1984, the AEB has fully funded the Egg Nutrition Center (ENC) in a cooperative management arrangement with the United Egg Producers. Beginning Jan. 1, 2008, the ENC is now funded and managed by the AEB. ENC staff are now AEB employees, which provides for more efficient integration of the nutrition science with AEB's marketing program.
Q: If the United States falls into a recession, how will egg consumption be affected vs. other protein sources?
A: Some people believe we are already in a recession. If that's true, then I'm encouraged by how well eggs will fare. Despite record-high prices at retail over the last 6 to 12 months, sales and consumption for eggs remain strong. We believe this is due in part to the fact that people are beginning to appreciate the positive nutritional benefits of eggs, and when pinching pennies they are choosing foods that provide value in both cost and nutrition. There's no question that food prices are indeed increasing, but eggs still stack up as a great value, especially compared to other proteins like beef, pork and dairy. For around 15 cents, one egg has 13 essential vitamins and minerals for only 70 calories. Few other center-of-plate protein foods can feed a family of four for about one dollar.
With that said, now is a good time for the industry to increase its promotional support for eggs. Research has shown that egg category sales respond quite favorably to promotion and merchandising efforts.