Globally, approximately 1.2trn eggs are produced for human consumption every year. Around half of those are used as ingredients in food and beverage products.
While an increasing number of high welfare eggs are available in-store – suggesting that welfare standards associated with whole egg production are on the rise – baker and entrepreneur Silvan Leibacher is concerned hens producing eggs used as ingredients do not benefit from the same standards.
“For whole eggs or shelled eggs, the consumer is able to choose organic or regionally produced products, but when eggs are used in food processing, this is not the case,” he told FoodNavigator. “The consumer doesn’t really have a choice.”
Not only do these hens ‘live under very bad circumstances’, but as most laying hens’ egg production declines by about 60% every two to three years, Leibacher estimates that around two to three billion laying hens are culled annually.
In Leibacher’s native Switzerland, the majority of these hens are converted into biogas, we were told. “So they’re not being eaten, but discarded.”
Together with co-founder David Ebneter, Leibacher established EggField, a start-up developing plant-based ingredients with similar, if not superior, functionality to egg.
“We believe that by replacing the 50% of eggs going into products, we can solve these ethical and environmental problems and create better products that are more appealing to consumers.”
Plant-based, but clean-label
EggField is not the only start-up developing chicken-free ‘egg replacements’ for the food sector. In Israel, Zero Egg is making a plant-based liquid egg from a selection of plant proteins, including chickpea, pea, soy and potato proteins.
Another is US-headquartered JUST’s plant-based scrambled egg alternative Just Egg, which champions mung bean as its main source of protein. In India, EVO Foods is making a plant-based liquid egg alternative, and in the UK, CRACKD is selling plant-based liquid egg, primarily for use in baking.
So how is EggField setting itself apart in the albeit niche, but burgeoning, category?
“We specialise in egg ingredients that are clean label and ‘declaration friendly’. We notice that a lot of egg replacement ingredients out there have very complex ingredients lists,” Leibacher explained.
The industry term ‘clean label’ lacks an official definition. But it is generally understood to mean an ingredients list free of chemicals and unpronounceable additives.
“At the core, we believe that clean label means few ingredients, none of which a consumer cannot pronounce,” said the co-founder.
“It wouldn’t be correct to say we’re limiting ourselves to three or five [ingredients]. But I think an egg replacement with above average functionality shouldn’t have more than seven ingredients.”
‘Functionality, not protein, is the deciding factor’
EggField has two products in the pipeline that ‘use very few ingredients’. The first aims to replace the functionality of egg white, and the second, the functionality of whole egg.
The start-up stressed its goal is not to create egg replacements from plant-based ingredients, but rather to mimic the functionality of egg.
“The hypothesis we have is that functionality comes before everything. That means the product has to work for a certain application in a certain product. We don’t think that consumers want to pay for all different functionalities if they are not needed for a product.
“We are not looking for a product that works [averagely] in all applications, but rather one that excels in certain applications.”
EggField is also distinguishing itself from US-based start-up Clara Foods, which is producing lab-cultured egg whites that are ‘nature identical’ to proteins found in animal-derived eggs. “We don’t believe the egg protein is the deciding factor. We believe that functionality of egg proteins is the deciding factor,” said Leibacher.
And EggField believes the consumer feels the same way. When egg is used as an ingredient in bakery products, for example, ‘they don’t really care whether there is egg protein’, said the co-founder. “But they want the product to be tasty and to have the right texture. So that is what we are focusing on.”
Plant-based ingredients in the pipeline
The start-up is using a blend of extracts and different proteins in its products. These are predominantly based on pulses, Leibacher revealed.
“We have noticed that depending on how we treat the different pulses, we can get different functionalities from them. Then we combine them into a product that can gelate, for example, or can foam or bind.”
EggField is using a ‘natural process’, with no genetically modified ingredients. It also aims to use organic ingredients where possible. Without revealing too much associated with EggField’s IP, Leibacher said chickpea and yellow pea are ‘very interesting’ ingredients. As are combinations of plant-based ingredients. “Some of the functionalities of proteins change when combined. And that is one of the most interesting points.”
EggField’s liquid egg white replacement could be described as an optimised aquafaba with additional functionality. It can be used in meringue, sauces, drinks, muffins, cakes. “You can use it anywhere you want emulsification, binding, or foaming,” we were told. "Often it can not only replace egg white, but whole egg."
This product is already being commercialised in Switzerland via Leibacher’s own bakery business, Leibacher Biber-Manufaktur in Uster. Specifically, Leibacher Biber-Manufaktur has developed a white gingerbread that launched in last November. “We see an increase in sales of about 30% compared to the normal product,” the co-founder revealed.
EggField’s whole egg replacement has yet to reach the market, but the start-up hopes first products will hit shelves this summer in the pasta category.
“The whole egg replacement is based on proteins that create other functionalities, like gelation.” EggField expects this product can also be used in plant-based quiche and pancake offerings.
As EggField is not currently using any novel ingredients, entry to market appears easier than some others in the space, such as JUST or Clara Foods.
The start-up is also unconcerned by any potential off-notes present in plant-based proteins – as is associated with soy and pea protein extract for example.
To start with, plant-protein blends have fewer taste challenges than single protein ingredients, the co-founder explained. And secondly, as egg ingredient usually makes up a small percentage of finished food products (not nearly as much as 50-80%), masking off-notes is not the key challenge. “The main challenge is functionality,” the co-founder reiterated, “to create functionality that can perform on par or better than egg.”
Concerning cost, the start-up said its products are ‘definitely in the premium range’, but it hopes to bring that down. At the same time, EggField is confident that being able to adopt a ‘plant-based’ claim will bring its customers ‘more value, rather than decreased cost’. “We believe that the advantage of labelling products ‘plant-based’ will help to increase sales for companies,” he emphasised.
And finally, in terms of demand, EggField expects interest not only from conventional products looking to expand into plant-based, but also from producers of next-generation plant-based products. “Some customers approach us that already have a vegan range, but their labels are full of additives, thickeners and non-natural ingredients. They want to go towards a more clean label product.”
EggField was recently accepted into the latest ProVeg International accelerator programme.
It is a ‘great platform’ to exchange ideas, discuss challenges with other start-ups, and to connect with founders who are ‘disrupting their field’, said EggField co-founder Silvan Leibacher. “Everyone involved is contributing to changing the world…both ecologically and ethically, and to reduce the amount of animal-based proteins that we are consuming. I think that is very cool and inspiring.”