Eran Groner has deep experience in the egg space.
He spent a decade working in the industrial farming sector, designing and implementing factory farms for chickens. He helped create farms that raised hundreds of thousands of chickens in 14 countries on four continents.
Groner said he thought he was doing a good thing. But slowly, he began to see the sustainability problems of the broiler chicken and egg industries and quit.
Eventually, he met Yosefa Ben Cohen, a chef who created a plant-based poached egg with a runny yolk in her home kitchen. Groner said he instantly knew that product would be a game changer. He said he wanted to build an egg company with her — not a plant-based product company.
“The plant-based thing, that's besides the point,” he said. I mean, it’s a huge advantage, but that’s not what we’re creating. Not a plant-based tech company.”
With fellow co-founders Ben Cohen and her husband, Nisim Ben Cohen, Groner is bringing his expertise in eggs as CEO of Yo Egg, an Israeli company built around the chef’s creation.
The company started in 2021 and has been on a fast growth trajectory. In just over a year, Yo Egg built two manufacturing facilities — one in Israel and one in the United States — raised a $5 million seed round and launched products in two countries.
Yo Egg started appearing on a few restaurant menus in Los Angeles in February. Now, the company’s plant-based poached eggs are available at foodservice outlets nationwide.
“It’s been a hell of a journey,” Groner said.
An egg made for social media
In the world of plant-based eggs, there are many things that make Yo Egg stand out. Its format, nutritional information and ingredient list might be intriguing. Others might be drawn to its taste, which is strikingly similar to chicken eggs.
But most people — and most social media videos showcasing the product — focus on the moment when the yolk portion of Yo Egg is cut and a thick yellow liquid spills out. Groner said that’s what makes Yo Egg unique.
“We think the category hasn’t been born yet — the egg substitute — because whatever’s out there doesn’t deliver on the eggs-perience, pun intended,” he said. “It has to have a distinct egg white and a distinct yolk. Whether you like it more runny or more jammy or more oozy, that’s up to you, but you'd expect to have that kind of experience.”
The plant-based egg space has grown steadily as new products are added and household awareness builds. According to statistics from SPINS, the Plant Based Foods Association and the Good Food Institute, dollar sales in the plant-based egg space was up 14.3% last year, hitting $45 million.
Yo Egg joins several egg analog products getting on the market today. Most of these have a distinct function, mimicking a particular type of egg.
- Category leader Just Egg has a mung bean-based scrambled egg that comes as a liquid, a folded piece or a sous vide bite.
- Zero Egg, which is currently in foodservice, can be cooked as a scrambled egg or omelet and is suitable for baking.
- Hodo, a tofu company, added a tofu-based scrambled egg product to its lineup last year.
- WunderEgg from Crafty Counter is a plant-based take on a hard boiled egg.
Julie Emmett, vice president of marketplace development for the Plant Based Foods Association, said earlier this year that retailers want to see a variety of innovations in the plant-based egg space.
“They want new products that meet their consumers’ needs,” she said. “They want variety and options, and not necessarily to rely on one or two brands.”
Creating the ‘obvious choice’
Other than its appearance and function, Yo Egg is very different from traditional eggs. Groner said that is a good thing.
Yo Egg controls its manufacturing process. The company does not rely on chickens, meaning the product isn’t susceptible to viruses, such as avian influenza. Also, the number of eggs they can produce is not determined by the number, health or age of hens.
“When eggs are in peak demand, we just add another shift,” he said.
On the consumer and foodservice side, Yo Egg has distinct advantages, Groner said. The plant-based product’s yolks never solidify, meaning they can be frozen for storage. They can be microwaved, and perfectly cooked en masse for large groups, he said.
Yo Egg also was designed to mimic the nutritional value of a traditional egg, Groner said. Right now, the product has 60% of the protein value of a medium-sized egg, no cholesterol, little saturated fat, and about a fifth of the sodium.
Yo Egg’s ingredients are largely recognizable. About 98% of each product is made from chickpeas, soy protein, vegetable oil, carrot extract and beta carotene, Groner said.
Groner said the company plans to get the prices of its eggs close to those of cage-free chicken eggs. He said the company can’t get there without more scaling up, but is hopeful they can reach parity within two years.
Groner said the goal is to win over consumers by making Yo Egg an “obvious choice.”
“It’s better for you. It’s cheaper, and there’s less hassle involved. Heck, why not?” he said.
How to make an egg
The R&D to create the egg product — with a cooked white, a runny yellow yolk and an egg-like taste – took a long time. Ben Cohen spent about 18 months trying to create the product in her kitchen before Groner first saw it.
Scaling that process up so the egg product could be manufactured also was challenging. The company hired design engineers to make customized equipment to make Yo Eggs — which they are working on patenting, Groner said.
There are several other processes to work around in order to get the manufacturing to work correctly, Groner said.
“Minor changes will make you fail, and you won't even know what went wrong,” Groner said.
He said Yo Egg can currently make thousands of its products each day at each of its facilities. The location in Los Angeles is primarily for manufacturing, and the one in Israel also has space for product development.
Scaling up manufacturing and distribution are currently in Yo Egg’s plans. Groner said they have ambitions to become the world’s largest egg company, which means they need to eventually be in retail stores.
In addition, the company is working on products that can take the place of other functions of eggs. Yo Eggs that are fried, hard boiled, cooked over hard and scrambled are in development. They’re also working on developing Yo Egg whites and yolks to be used in home cooking.
Groner said that Yo Egg’s recent business advancements were not impacted by the avian influenza outbreak that skyrocketed egg prices at the end of last year and the beginning of 2023.
However, he said, that situation — and the high prices and low supply it caused — drives home why Yo Egg went into business.
“It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “We want to tell this story, and it’s very relevant today. And it will be relevant for the foreseeable future until we transition to a chicken-less egg industry.”