“Sorry! There’s an egg shortage and we are not immune,” said a sign in my local Trader Joe’s. It was placed inside the refrigerator that once held organic eggs, large eggs, duck eggs and quail eggs. It was empty.
An outbreak of avian influenza (or “bird flu,” as you might have heard it be called) was detected last year in at least 57.83 million chickens, leading to a rapid depopulation of hens who could lay eggs and the rising cost of your favorite breakfast.
But you know what can’t get avian influenza? Plant-based eggs.
Cracking the code on plant-based eggs
Vegan eggs have come a long way. In 2011, startup Eat Just received its first $2 million in funding for what became its flagship egg replacement product made of mung bean protein. Just Egg, as the product is called, cooks up similarly to fluffy, diner-style scrambled eggs and the company flocked to a billion-dollar valuation.
Since then, several other startups have hatched plans to bring a variety of plant-based eggs to the market. There are hard-boiled egg lookalikes, courtesy of Switzerland-based Migros and Texas-based Crafty Counter. Singapore-based Float Foods unveiled a vegan “raw egg” — a viscous “yolk” suspended in a watery pool of “white” that cooks up like a fried egg.
But there’s a pecking order in the plant-based food market, and eggs are at the bottom. There are barely a dozen startups creating egg substitutes, according to Crunchbase data. At its peak in 2021, funding to the sector was a mere $208.7 million. For comparison, investors spent more than $2 billion on the meat substitute industry that same year.
And deal counts have naturally increased.
Will plant-based eggs poach the market? Probably not. Plant-based eggs, like most plant-based food, are suffering from the same supply chain and cost problems that currently plague the chicken egg industry.