Although different factors prevailed, a price run-up for non-fat dry milk in the 1970s drove bakers to replace this once-essential bread component with less-expensive soy-based ingredients. That change proved permanent. Is the baking industry on a similar cusp of change with eggs and egg replacers?

“Effective egg replacers have the potential to be a permanent change in bakery formulations,” observed Amanda Wagner, food technologist, Fiberstar, Inc., River Falls, WI.

Her opinion is held by others. Ody Maningat, PhD, vice-president of R&D and technical services, Manildra Group USA, Shawnee Mission, KS, said, “There’s been a lot of informal talk about this, and the consensus is that the egg replacement trend may have legs.”

This trend is playing out in real life. “Several of our customers have told us that they will continue to use egg replacers even when egg prices return to normal,” said Denis Wellington, president, BreadPartners, Inc., Cinnaminson, NJ. “This is because of valid fears about the return of AI in the fall. Even when eggs get back to normal pricing, the use of egg replacers will still save bakers considerable money.”

There’s another economic factor: the cost of changing CPG labels, an expense that can reach a half-million dollars per product. “When the egg situation is stable, there’s not much interest in changing formulations — and labels,” said Bill Gilbert, certified master baker and principal food technologist, Cargill, Plymouth, MN. “But once that label changes and the company absorbs the extra charges, it will be expensive to go back.

“With this crisis, we may see permanent change,” he continued. “Today, the egg situation has gotten past the cost of label changes.”

In late June, the egg crisis began to attract consumer attention, which will have repercussions. “Once consumers begin to build awareness, there will be a percentage of them who will not want to go back to traditional egg products,” said Ricardo Rodriguez, bakery and confectionery manager, Ingredion, Westchester, IL. He based his prediction on the facts that egg replacement solutions can deliver similar quality at a much lower price points and that they can be formulated to be allergen-free, thus avoiding that risk. “This could be the next ‘gluten free’ trend,” he observed.

Looking ahead led Kirtley Watts Jr., R&D manager, bakery, Puratos Corp., Cherry Hill, NJ, to say, “Yes, this avian flu crisis will end eventually, but egg prices have been and may remain volatile.”

There’s no doubt that egg price and supply drive today’s extreme measures. “The future? When demand can be met again, the use of egg extenders likely may diminish,” said Kurt Miller, sales director, Midwest, J&K Ingredients, Inc., Paterson, NJ. “But for now, everyone is looking for new technology. When you get to the threshold of $2.50 per doz, that’s when you move to replacers.” On June 12, egg prices in some regions stood at $2.45 a doz. In the following weeks, breaker egg prices showed some softening, but supply remained tight.