Product developers are researching replacement options as A.I. spreads and egg prices rise.

There’s an egg shortage in the United States due to avian influenza (A.I.), and the only way to eradicate the virus is to destroy infected flocks. Fewer hens mean fewer eggs and higher prices. With the potential for the situation to carry over into 2016 and possibly beyond, some food companies are considering reformulating with egg replacers.

“As egg demand outstrips supply and prices continue to rise, egg replacement is now at the forefront of food manufacturers’ minds, with many scrambling to find alternative ways to meet their formulating needs,” said Ricardo Rodriguez, marketing manager of bakery for Ingredion Inc., Westchester, Ill.

In addition to providing cost savings during this challenging time, food manufacturers are learning that egg replacers offer additional benefits. For starters, most are designed to be economical alternatives to real egg products. Further, depending on the ingredient and application, it’s feasible to create an allergen-free product, an appealing attribute to a growing number of consumers, as is an improved nutritional profile (e.g., cholesterol free) and a vegan positioning, said Agnes Lapinska, marketing manager of savory for Ingredion.

To identify the most appropriate replacer, manufacturers must identify what functions the egg ingredient performed in the application. This identification process may be complicated, because eggs may provide more than 20 different functions, according to the American Egg Board (A.E.B.).

“No single ingredient can replace the multiple functions provided by eggs,” said Elisa Maloberti, director of egg product marketing for the A.E.B.

Further, the standards of identity for a number of products that use eggs, most notably frozen custard and mayonnaise, require minimum amounts of egg as an ingredient. If the requirements are not met, the product name must be changed.

“While the egg seems like a simple item, it is a complex ingredient in food products and contributes multiple functions,” said David Whitmer, corporate director of quality, R.&D. and innovation for MGP Ingredients, Atchison, Kas. “Because of its many possible contributions to food products, the replacement of whole eggs is the most challenging. When specific egg functions can be identified, the food manufacturer has the greatest opportunity for successful egg replacement options.”

Tracy Mosteller, senior application specialist, DuPont Nutrition & Health, St. Louis, said, “Egg replacement can be challenging in many food applications due to the wide range of functional properties that egg possesses. For example in many sauces, the key characteristics are emulsification and mouthfeel, whereas in a meat product or meat analog, what is required is gelation and texture building. In other applications, the contribution of egg may be foam stabilization and air entrapment.

“Not all of these properties are required in any one application, and therefore the key in approaching substitution of egg is to understand the key properties in that given application, and therefore what would most effectively contribute similar physical characteristics and eating quality. This in turn leads to a variety of different offerings tailored to the individual application segment.”

The good news is many of the replacement offerings are based on two nutrients today’s consumers want more of in their diet: protein and fiber. Many are label friendly, much like eggs. Once a manufacturer reformulates by either reducing or replacing the amount of egg in the formulation there’s a good chance the new formula will remain active.

The opinion that egg replacement represents a permanent change is held by others.

“There’s been a lot of informal talk about this,” said Ody Maningat, vice-president of R.&D. and technical services for Manildra Group USA, Shawnee Mission, Kas. “The consensus is that the egg replacement trend may have legs.”