Chicken eggs have a great deal of versatility when it comes to their culinary uses.
Liron Nimrodi, CEO and co-founder of plant-based egg maker Zero Egg, considered the many aspects of eggs when developing her company and product. Zero Egg comes in liquid form and can be cooked like scrambled eggs or made into an omelet. The liquid can also be substituted for eggs in baked goods. It also comes as preformed patties. And now, it’s available in a frozen scoopable form, in which the eggs are already cooked and get heated up in a skillet, oven or microwave.
“Chefs really, truly appreciate the fact that they have something that actually can replace eggs,” Nimrodi said. “They didn't have it up until now.”
Zero Egg, which is made from a blend of soy, pea, chickpea and potato proteins, currently is served in more than 500 independent restaurants in the United States. The company is on track to sell the equivalent of more than 1.1 million eggs this year.
Zero Egg may seem like a relative newcomer to the space. Its products first went on the U.S. market in mid 2021, and it’s only in foodservice now. But, Nimrodi said, they’ve been operating in stealth for much longer. The science and technology behind Zero Egg were first developed eight years ago in Israel’s Strauss Food Tech Hub. Nimrodi said it took them five years to figure out how to get the functionality right. Zero Egg emerged out of stealth in 2018. Patents on its technology are pending, she said.
The whole purpose behind Zero Egg is to inject more sustainability and health benefits into a commonly consumed staple food. The company’s goal is to make an affordable product that consumers want to eat with the same taste and nutrition as egg, but none of the environmental impacts.
“You can ask each one of the team and he will tell you the same thing: That we really want to be part of the revolution,” Nimrodi said. “So our part is egg.”
And with few companies making plant-based egg products, Nimrodi said, Zero Egg is in a very good place. Just Egg, launched in 2018 by Eat Just, is the category leader. The company has sold the equivalent of more than 300 million eggs worldwide, in both retail and foodservice, according to its own statistics. But there are other up-and-coming plant-based egg substitutes on the U.S. market, including Hodo’s tofu-based scrambled eggs.
“We’re super excited to pioneer in this category,” she said.
Nimrodi said that the biggest challenge in developing Zero Egg was making the diverse functionality they wanted and the nutritional portion work together.
Zero Egg is clean label, made from just the protein blend, fibers, salt, binders and natural colors and flavors. Finding a blend of recognizable ingredients that could have the desired function and taste was the biggest challenge for the company, Nimrodi said.
And bringing the desired functionality to foodservice customers was also important. Breakfast in general is one area in foodservice that has been growing, and the availability of plant-based egg has helped drive some breakfast sales. Zero Egg is sold at the five locations of New York City cafe and coffee shop The Grey Dog. The restaurant said Zero Egg products make up about 8% of their breakfast sales.
Zero Egg has also been huge on college campuses, Nimrodi said. The plant-based egg substitute is served on several New England campuses, and the brand sponsored an omelet flipping contest at the University of Central Florida in February.
Nimrodi said that while Zero Egg is concentrating on the foodservice market right now, their eyes are on an eventual retail expansion. The product would be likely to hit stores in more than a year, she said. Zero Egg is following the foodservice-first playbook of Impossible Foods, she said: Become popular and get name recognition in foodservice first, and then use that popularity for a successful retail launch.
Breaking into the egg market
There are scores of plant-based substitutes for meat and dairy products on the market today, but not many for eggs. Nimrodi suspects it is because eggs pose such an R&D challenge. It’s difficult to get a product that mimics all things about eggs: the right taste, the right texture, the right function and the ability to be a one-to-one replacement.
And while consumers who are vegans would probably be OK with a plant-based egg product that didn’t hit all the right notes, Nimrodi said they’re not who Zero Egg is targeting.
“We are not after them,” she said. “We are after the mainstream. So the mainstream, they will not compromise.”
While Zero Egg is a company based in Israel, their manufacturing and market is in the United States. However, she said, they are eyeing expansions to other international markets.
Currently, Nimrodi said, their cost is currently about twice that of chicken eggs. The company is aiming at price parity to cage-free eggs by 2026.
However, Nimrodi said, price is not much of a motivator for plant-based eggs. Most consumers who are looking for this kind of substitute are interested for sustainability, health and ethical reasons, she said.
Nimrodi also believes the relatively empty marketplace for plant-based eggs will be a distant memory in coming years. As more and more companies overcome the plant-based egg R&D challenges, the plant-based egg space will be much more crowded — similar to plant-based meat today.
“That's why now, because we are one of the first in the market, we really want to establish our presence and establish the brand,” she said.