Cracking the plant-based egg market: Clean label, nutrition, and meeting ‘fanatical’ demand
Recreating the functionality of egg from plant-based ingredients is no mean feat. Not only should an egg replacement thicken, bind, and leaven, but consumers expect it to look and taste like its chicken-laid counterpart.
As eggs are powerhouses of vitamins, minerals, and protein, nutrition is also a key factor. And with an increasing number of consumers scrutinising the small print, manufacturers are also under pressure to create all this with a short list of ‘clean’ ingredients.
How are liquid plant-based egg innovators working to meet these demands? We hear from Indian start-up EVO Foods and UK pioneer CRACKD to find out.
‘Massive opportunity’ for chicken-free eggs
The global egg replacement market is on an upwards trajectory. Research and Markets expects the sector to reach $1.15bn by 2022, due to growing preference for plant-based natural ingredients, as well as growing vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian populations.
Despite being a high-growth area, few players currently exist. The best known is perhaps US-based JUST’s scrambled egg alternative. Israeli start-up Zero Egg is another working in plant-based egg replacements.
However, as others catch on to the market’s growth potential, new faces are entering the scene. Mumbai-based EVO Foods, for example, entered the space in 2019. The start-up is on a mission to disrupt the $200bn egg industry with its plant-based liquid egg alternative.
In India, eggs are a bit of a ‘grey’ area when it comes to diet, explained EVO Foods CEO Kartik Dixit at ProVeg International’s 2021 New Food Conference.
The country boasts the world’s largest (28%) vegetarian population, within which some consume eggs ‘hidden’ in cooked or baked products. Others avoid eggs altogether. In any case, Dixit observed that Indians are far less decisive about eggs compared to dairy or meat.
“We realised that egg is the way to go to introduce the concept of clean protein in the Indian market,” he told the audience.
It took EVO around 18 months to develop its liquid egg alternative, which is made from a blend of mung beans, chickpeas and peas.
In the UK, CRACKD kickstarted its development process over four years ago, when its founders observed a ‘massive opportunity’ for vegan egg replacements, explained General Manager Rik Roberts at the New Food Conference.
The result is a plant-based liquid egg designed primarily for use in baking. Having achieved a desirable taste and texture in the British classic Yorkshire pudding, CRACKD went on to successfully trial its product in cakes, quiches, omelettes, frittatas, and custard. The product launched into the UK market in November 2020.
Challenges in functionality and texture
From a functionality perspective, eggs are incredibly versatile. They can be used for aeration, binding, coagulation, colouring, emulsification, flavouring, foaming, washing, and whipping.
While it is relatively simple to achieve one of these functions with plant-based ingredients, the greatest challenge lies in achieving multiple functionalities, explained CRACKD’s Roberts. “It’s the versatility of it,” he explained.
CRACKD describes its product as ‘the no-egg egg’, but it doesn’t perform exactly like an egg, he continued. When consumers replace conventional egg with CRACKD’s product in a sponge cake, for example, they may have greater success cooking the cake at a slightly lower temperature, and for 10-15 minutes longer. “The gums that we’re using don’t perform in exactly the same way as an egg.”
For this reason, the start-up suggests consumers use its online recipes to start with, before experimenting with their own. “Then when you go freestyling, you’ll have a better idea [of how it works],” he said.
The most challenging egg quality to mimic in plant-based, for EVO, is its texture. First iterations were either ‘pasty’ or ‘too rigid’, recalled Dixit. “The challenge is basically to get the liquid right, and then when the phase changes to a solid product, making sure that the texture is as good as an egg. I think it’s a fundamental challenge,” he told the online audience.
‘How can we make the ingredients list shorter?’
Clean label continues to be one of the biggest trends in food, and given the recent backlash against ‘ultra-processed’ vegan meat alternatives, the plant-based egg space is no different.
For today’s consumers, ‘clean’ ingredients lists are less about what is featured, and more about what isn’t: be it preservatives, genetically modified ingredients, or unpronounceable additives.
CRACKD has worked to ‘pare down’ its ingredients list, to keep it ‘as small a list’ as possible. As it stands, the liquid egg alternative contains 13 ingredients: water, pea protein, thickener, gelling agent, firming agent, nutritional yeast, vitamin B12, black salt, acid, acidity regulator, colour, vitamins (D & B12), stabilisers, and dextrose. It is devoid of artificial colours and flavourings.
It took the start-up four and a half years to create an ingredients list ‘that works’. While it could simplify the list to bring down its count, the General Manager said he would be hesitant to do so.
“At the moment, we’ve got things like vitamin D and B12, we could take those out and reduce the ingredients list, we could take out the black salt…but you’d get a less tasty product. We could take out the beta carotene, which is naturally sourced, and get rid of the colour.
“But I think the consumer is probably happy to accept a level of ingredients as long as those ingredients are a) serving a purpose, b) enhancing the product…and c) is all natural and from vegan sources.”
From a nutrition perspective, one large egg (50g) has 70kcal, contains 4.5g fat, 215mg cholesterol, 65mg sodium, zero carbohydrates, and 6g protein.
Conversely, 100g of CRACKD liquid egg has 23kcal, less than 0.5g fat. 2.97g carbohydrate (of which 0.13g is sugars), 2.23g protein, and 0.23g salt.
“It’s not exactly the same as an egg, but it’s a really good mimic of the performance of the egg whilst being enhanced with vitamins that we know the plant-based community sometimes struggle to get into their diets,” explained Roberts.
An added benefit is that swapping out conventional egg for CRACKD’s alternative in recipes can help reduce the amount of fat and sugar needed in the final product, he added.
EVO’s liquid egg champions ingredients regularly consumed across India: mung beans, chickpeas, and peas. Leveraging familiar ingredients enhances consumer confidence in the product, suggested Dixit.
Water is also the primary ingredient in EVO’s formulation. After that, the start-up is using proteins, binders, and emulsifiers. The ‘whole industry’ is facing the same challenge, he explained: ‘How can we make the ingredients list shorter and shorter?’ “I think a lot of meat alternative [brands] have faced this scrutiny recently about the endless list of ingredients that they have.”
EVO’s product contains preservatives that improve functionality and shelf-life. While this decision was a ‘hard choice’, Dixit believes the Indian market is less concerned about such ingredients than in other countries.
Concerning nutritional profile, EVO’s protein content stands at 12g per 100g product. “So basically, it’s almost as close to an egg that you can get.”
By formulating with a variety of plant-based proteins, EVO’s offering provides a ‘better amino acid profile’ than egg, and its product is also fortified with vitamins (D, B12 and A). “So as you can see, it’s a better egg, without the cholesterol.”
Meeting ‘fanatical’ demand
With foodservice largely shuttered throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, CRACKD has been pushing its product into retail. Starting with online vegan retailer TheVegankind, its liquid egg replacement has since found listings in premium retailers Marks & Spencer, Whole Foods Market, and Selfridges.
The start-up also has plans to enter ‘a number of the top four retailers in the UK’, the General Manager revealed.
Concerning demand for the product in the UK, Roberts said it has been ‘fanatical’. Moving forward, the company hopes to see ‘better engagement’ from retail in the category. “There are hundreds of dairy alternatives, there are hundreds of plant-based cheeses, and plant-based chocolates, but there are very few in the arena of vegan eggs. And in the UK, there are no liquid vegan eggs.”
The company is looking forward to exploring other sales channels, such as restaurants, wholesalers, and manufacturers. “Although we started in retail, I see that foodservice is going to come on really strong this year.
“We are looking at manufacturing as well, [which means] using our product as an ingredient – as well as a retail product.”
One of EVO’s co-founders comes from a hospitality background, so the start-up will first target foodservice. Given that EVO’s liquid egg alternative also requires refrigeration, foodservice was an obvious first port of call, suggested the CEO – adding that India’s retail infrastructure is not as ‘good as in other countries’.
Ultimately, though, the start-up is aiming to create a product ‘as close to normal eggs as possible’. “If that means that consumers demand a shelf-stable egg…you will see, at some point in the future, ambient shelf stability.”