(CNN) — Egg prices are still high at the grocery store — so plant-based egg alternatives are using this moment to make their case.
In some ways, it’s been a difficult year for egg alternatives. Retail sales fell 3.4% by unit in the 12 months through January 28 compared to the prior year, per NielsenIQ, though dollar sales went up. In that period, eggs sales by unit ticked up .5%, despite a 54% jump in prices.
But in recent weeks, interest has spiked.
Brands like Just Egg and Zero Egg, which make egg alternatives, say they’ve seen momentum in January. For them, turmoil in the traditional egg market is the perfect opportunity to try to reach potential new customers and highlight the advantages of plant-based eggs.
‘Plants don’t get the flu’
After traditional egg prices hit record highs in December, Just Egg — made with mung beans and sold at national retailers — launched a marketing offensive.
It placed digital ads in over 800 electric vehicle charging stations located outside of grocery stores proclaiming that “Just Egg is in stock,” adding, “plants don’t get the flu,” a reference to the deadly avian flu that has strained the national egg supply. The brand also took out an ad in the Sunday New York Times that delivered a similar message.
Just having enough supply has become a selling point, and an advantage over egg producers.
“We’ve reminded consumers and customers… that we’re available,” Matt Riley, chief revenue officer of Just Egg parent company Eat Just, told CNN. “Solving for crises like this is one of the primary motivations for us to exist.”
Interest in Just Egg has spiked since Christmas, said Riley, noting that there have been “record high” units sold per store each week, at some large national retailers since the holiday. With Just Egg moving off shelves more quickly, some retailers are looking to up their stock, he added.
“We increased our manufacturing output for the first three weeks of January and we’ve kept it at a higher level,” he said. In the year through December 22, Just Egg grew 17% in terms of volume, according to the company.
Sector data shows a similar trend for the past few months: In the week through January 28, unit sales of egg substitutes jumped 18% compared to the week ending in December 3 in US retail, according to NielsenIQ. In that last week of January, unit sales of egg alternatives were up 3.5% compared to the prior year. That week, regular egg sales were down 8.2% by unit, year over year.
Individual shoppers aren’t the only one exploring alternatives. Restaurants are, too.
Restaurants give plant-based eggs a shot
Zero Egg, which sells an egg alternative made with chickpeas, potatoes, peas and soy, has recently received interest from restaurants looking for a more stable supply chain for eggs as an ingredient in items like salad dressing. Zero Egg sells to restaurants, but is not available in US retail stores.
“Probably the second week in January… we started to get an uptick in requests,” said Graeham Henderson, US director of sales at Zero Egg.
Restaurants that had given the brand the cold shoulder also started paying attention, he said. “We started getting some follow-ups and circle-backs from places where we’ve gone through some initial testing, but there wasn’t necessarily a sense of prioritization for adding a plant-based egg,” he said.
Still, plant-based options are not for everyone.
Lillian and Tim Lu, who own Noisette bakery and restaurant in Denver, have struggled to source eggs. To help their bottom line, they’ve been buying only yolks for some items. But they’re not interested in plant-based eggs — the texture and flavor is just not there for their needs, Tim Lu said.
Those still interested in chicken eggs may be pleased to hear that the egg market is stabilizing, at least in wholesale.
“Wholesale prices have actually been trending lower for the past six weeks,” said Karyn Rispoli, egg market reporter at Urner Barry, a provider of protein market data. She said those prices are down 52% compared to the all-time highs reached in December.
In the grocery store, egg prices remain elevated, Rispoli noted: “Grocers are not yet passing along those savings.”