Although question marks can be put against much of the production data that emerge from Asia, there is no doubt that the continent is by far the largest egg-producing region of the world, accounting for 39 of the 59 million tonnes produced worldwide – 66% of the global annual total. China is the biggest player with an annual output of between 25mt and 27mt.
Avian influenza continues to threaten the whole region. As only a couple of countries have escaped the virus, most egg users in the local food industries are showing an increased interest in importing safe egg products, while some local egg producers are flirting with the idea of building their own egg plants to cash in on the scare.
Malaysia is a good example of this – four new liquid plants have been built in the past few years, aimed at supplying local food processors with a safe alternative. However, one has closed and the remaining three are fighting for the same few customers, with the result that plant utilisation is somewhere between 20-25%.
In China, there is great interest in setting up new plants but their potential customers – Chinese food processors – are completely price-oriented and are not prepared to pay for the added safety, convenience and hygiene that the new plants can offer.
In fact, some processors are even adding cheaper ingredients to their egg products in order to cut prices. With low margins domestically, the egg processors are looking to export but many countries have banned Chinese poultry products, including eggs and egg products. The end result is that plant utilisation may be as low as 40%.
It is 10 years since the first egg products plant went into production in India. Soon afterwards, several others were established. However, all are dependent on exporting their powders, as egg consumption in India is so low. Several factories have failed in the meantime and today, there are less than a handful of good plants still in business.
The industry in Korea has expanded dramatically in the past few years and currently there are 13 factories with a combined daily breaking capacity of close to 400 tonnes of liquid eggs. Last year, the actual output was less than 150t/day.
Taiwan has seen a surge in new factories mainly resulting from the government implementing regulations and giving financial support to plants with pasteurisation capability. However, the government does not appear to appreciate that the Taiwanese food industry prefers the yolks intact, often packed in a clear bottle. To produce whole egg yolks after pasteurisation is impossible and so the pasteurisation process is often by-passed.
Thailand has only a couple of plants catering for the local industry so the volume of imported egg products is larger than in any other Asian country except Japan, where some 70 factories produce about 500,000t/year of liquid egg.
There is no egg processing industry in Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines or Pakistan.
Interest in egg products is definitely growing in Asia and the avian influenza issue is generally considered to be a problem that will not go away, hence governments are encouraging the production of heat-treated egg products. However, they must also look to protect their egg producers as, although egg product imports are small, they do pose a threat.
Despite the World Trade Organisation’s lowering of import duties for greater access to markets, other protective barriers are appearing, such as complicated import procedures and restrictions, quality requirements, religious and certification demands, to challenge potential exporters further.
Most imported products into the region are in powder form, generally going to internationally oriented and educated food processors.
The concept of egg products being a popular ingredient in the developed world is not a factor in Asia – yet! Labour is cheap, hygiene often of little concern and convenience does not matter. Price is the important factor.
Out of the 20kg of eggs the average Japanese eats each year, 10kg is in the form of egg products. There is the prospect that markets like Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong will follow suit in the future. Education, food poisoning, avian influenza, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), regulations, food safety awareness and increased disposable incomes are just some of the factors that are likely to increase the use of egg products in Asia in the coming years.