Shoppers are scrambling to eat more eggs

The trend for healthy eating and protein-rich diets means Irish people are shelling out on the humble egg in increasing numbers.

The value of the egg market surged by 6.6% in the year to November 2016 to €122m, despite the price per pack falling by 3% over the same period, according to data compiled by Kantar Worldpanel, a market research firm.

People are buying more eggs more often, said Bord Bia, the state food agency. The vast majority of households now buy eggs every 1.5 weeks, at an average of 11 eggs per shopping trip. Eggs were previously thought of as a breakfast food but many consumers are now eating them for lunch and dinner, and as a result buying eggs by the dozen rather than the half-dozen, Bord Bia said.

The surge in the popularity of eggs in Ireland mirrors the trend in the UK, where November saw the steepest increase in sales since the end of wartime rationing in the 1950s. In Ireland, Kantar data shows the value of the market was 7.6% higher in the three months to November, compared with the same period of 2015.

Eggs are benefitting from a run of good publicity. Jamie Oliver, a celebrity chef, listed eggs as one of his “every day superfoods” in a 2015 TV series and book, while a 2016 BBC documentary on “The Truth about Healthy Eating”, which aimed to sort the myths from the facts, came down firmly on the side of eating eggs for breakfast. The formerly prevalent notion that consumption of eggs should be limited to control cholesterol has been debunked, and it’s now 10 years since the official advice to Irish consumers was changed to “an egg a day is ok”.

Aoife Mac Eoin, secretary of the Irish Egg Association, which represents the main egg-packing companies, said people “now realise that eggs are very high protein food with little or no fat”, and only around 90 calories.

“People now are a lot more health-conscious and programmes like Operation Transformation highlight to people the importance of eating healthily and eggs would be in the premier division when it comes to health snacks,” Mac Eoin said.

Thomas Fitzpatrick, a free-range egg farmer in Virginia in Co Cavan, also mentions the probable influence of Operation Transformation as many of the tie-in recipes for RTÉ’s popular health and fitness show involve eggs. “People are aware now that eggs are a healthy product to be eating. Time was, children going to school didn’t think it was trendy to be eating eggs,” said Fitzpatrick.

Eggs are also a crucial part of another current food trend in Ireland: the proliferation of cafes and restaurants offering weekend brunch to hungover hipsters. Like many food fashions, this is a New York import – Time magazine proclaimed brunch “the new dinner” way back in 2011 – and has been promulgated through Instagram. There are 12m posts on the photo-sharing site tagged #brunch, though this is still some way behind #cleaneating at 27m and #healthyfood at 21m.

“Brunch is an eggy affair,” said Geoff Nordell, chef and owner of the trendy Whitefriar Grill in Dublin, which has had a brunch menu since 2011 (before it was cool, like all good hipster establishments). Nordell’s brunch menu currently includes eight egg dishes.

“When people go for brunch they want eggs. They’re rich and they go well with prosecco and champagne. All you have to do is add the lunch part of it, which is either meat or fish, and you’ve got a brunch dish,” Nordell said.

The increased demand for eggs has not driven up prices paid to farmers and suppliers, however. Average retail prices fell by 2.4% in the year to October, down from €1.42 per pack to €1.39, according to Kantar.

Damien O’Reilly, who runs Annalitten Farm Eggs in Co Monaghan, which packs caged, free range and organic eggs from 20 farmers, said despite higher sales in volume terms, “there’s less value in the eggs”.

“During the year we’ve seen our orders increase by 4%, but there’d be lower prices. Supermarket chains are squeezing everybody all the time,” O’Reilly said.

However, Bord Bia said the fact that eggs are “such good value” is part of the reason for the increase in sales. A chicken and egg problem indeed.

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