Last month, Just Egg quietly hit a milestone it had been aiming for since it first hit the market in 2018: Cost parity with eggs.
According to USDA statistics, a dozen eggs delivered to a warehouse the week ending Jan. 3 was $5.38. A bottle of pourable Just Egg has an average retail cost of $4.40, said Matt Riley, Eat Just’s chief revenue officer.
In late January, Riley said that the mung bean-based egg substitute product always had that target in its sights. And while the company has been bringing its price to consumers down as it has scaled up its operations, it wasn’t thought to be something that would happen so quickly. Decreases in egg availability due to a deadly bird flu outbreak that began last year has caused prices to spike about 60% compared with a year before.
“This is the first time actually on a unit basis … that our egg is cheaper than a dozen eggs at shelf,” Riley said. “...That's probably not going to last, but it is a critical point in our journey around pricing. We've always been committed to providing as close to price parity as we could and we've achieved it, at least in the short term.”
And consumers have definitely noticed. Riley said that in the last eight weeks, they’ve seen record velocities for Just Egg on a per-store, per-week basis. In 2022 as a whole, the brand posted 17% growth — mostly in the liquid product, but also in the brand’s frozen folded eggs and sous vide bites.
Riley said they’ve increased their manufacturing output by 25% since December. They’ve also reached out to retail partners and consumers, taking out a full-page ad in the Sunday New York Times to tell potential customers “Plants don’t get the flu” and Just Egg is available.
“Our [retail] buyers are dealing with probably the most challenging year they've ever experienced in the egg category, just from availability, pricing, assortment,” Riley said. “We're just trying to be part of the solution.”
Julie Emmett, vice president of marketplace development for the Plant Based Foods Association, said that the fact that the price gap is closing between plant-based and traditional eggs is “very helpful” in promoting alternatives. The situation also shows the fragility of depending on animal products. After all, she said, external issues like viruses and poor weather can have an outsized influence on price and availability of animal-derived proteins.
“Each time this happens, consumers are more likely to purchase a plant-based food item because it's there, and then they find it meets their needs,” Emmett said. “And the foundation of plant-based foods grows.”
Consumers nationwide are responding to the changes in the egg set.
According to a survey conducted by Just Egg and Suzy last month, 77% have noticed higher prices and less availability when shopping for eggs. Nearly nine out of 10 of those shoppers are adapting their egg buying habits to the economics of today, and 40% said they are more likely to try plant-based eggs right now.
In North America, Just Egg is available in more than 44,000 retailers and more than 2,200 foodservice outlets.
While Eat Just is selling more bottles of Just Egg, Riley said they are also working to provide consumers with reasons to keep eating plant-based versions of the breakfast staple. The brand has reformulated to improve taste and eating experience — Riley said what is available now is the fourth version of the product — and continues to innovate into new formats and products.
Before the spike in egg prices, the brand had more than a 50% repeat buying rate, Riley said. Just Egg was in about 2 million homes in the United States as of last July, the company said. Data isn’t yet available for the more recent past.
Emmett said PBFA is working closely to collect shopper data — both on what they are buying and what their motivations are — to figure out more about how to retain the consumers who are reaching for plant-based eggs right now. But retailers seem to appreciate the choice, she said.
“What retailers are telling us is, ‘Don't stop. Keep innovating,’” she said. “They want new products that meet their consumers’ needs.”
It’s likely that more startups will see the market white space for eggs after this situation, Emmett said. And considering the many functions of eggs, there are many opportunities for plant-based companies to enter the market and fill some of those needs, she said.
A clear mission
Riley and Eat Just CEO Josh Tetrick both say that the mission of Just Egg is not necessarily to replace traditional egg production or to be a stable product in times of major price and availability shifts for the commodity — even though Just Egg can do all of that.
“The long-term goal of Just Egg is to be the first global egg brand, the first global egg company, because it's the lowest-cost, best-tasting healthiest egg. And that's where we're focused,” Tetrick said in an interview last summer. “By the end of this decade, we want to be at or below the price of conventional chicken eggs in a way that tastes better, in a way that continues to be healthier. Ultimately, that's how we think we're really going to move to move the market.”
Regardless of any of Just Egg’s sustainability and nutritional benefits, Tetrick said the company has always sought to also be the best choice for consumers who just want something that tastes good, is inexpensive and is good for their health. Taste, price and health will be what drives most consumers to Just Egg, he said.
Prior to the last few months of egg price spikes, Tetrick said the key driver for new Just Egg consumers was its nutritional value. According to company statistics, a serving of Just Egg has no cholesterol, more than two-thirds less saturated fat than a chicken egg, and about the same amount of protein.
Riley said that Just Egg really hasn’t changed its strategy during this time, and it also isn’t doing anything different to take advantage of the situation, except for increasing supply. The company is committed to having another egg option available to consumers, and expanding a less expensive, more sustainable and more nutritious option to make a difference.
Egg shortages due to bird flu “just highlights and reinforces and more brightly shines the light on what we've already been doing,” Riley said. “We're very pleased to be part of the solution. We want consumers to find us because they want to find us. We don't want them to have to find us under crises, but if these challenges illuminate us as an option, we're delighted to be there and be available.”