Soy-based egg replacer from Unilever food scientists targets US market

- Last updated on GMT

A soy-based egg replacer developed by food scientists at Unilever
heads to the US, as Alleggra Foods, the owner of the new
ingredient, signs a distribution, manufacturing and marketing
agreement with Tate & Lyle for the North American and Mexican
markets, reports Lindsey Partos.

Recently launched onto the UK market, the new deal will look for gains in the egg replacer market: opportunities are considerable with egg consumption in the market around ten times the size of the UK, the equivalent to over 100 billion eggs.

"Tate & Lyle have a superb track record of selling high value-added ingredients into this market, and have a marketing and sales approach that fits well with Alleggra,"​ said Gavin Heys, chief executive for Alleggra Foods.

Alleggra, composed of soy protein, whey protein, vegetable oil (sunflower oil but can be varied) and egg white, was originally developed as a project within Unilever to design an anti-cholesterol egg replacer.

But because the product failed to fit into the number four global food firm's strategy - actually cutting back on brands - the company opted to fund the intellectual property through a separate venture.

UK ingredients firm Tate & Lyle came on board in September 2004 with a £1.6 million cash injection and a 15 per cent slice. The rest of Alleggra ownership is divided between Unilever and management.

The GM-free product is marketed as a "fully functional replacer of egg"​, and claims to have 75 per cent less saturated fat than an egg, with 10 per cent more protein.

"Alleggra has clear advantages in terms of cost and health,"​ Gavin Hays tells, pushing the two key facets of the product's commercial value.

The price volatility of the European egg market over the past 18 months, in most part linked to the decimation of millions of birds through avian flu, has led to huge fluctuations in egg product prices.

Food makers that use eggs extensively in applications from bakery to dressings, have seen margins sliced by the rises. Yolk prices, for example, rose from about £1700 a tonne in 2002, to £2250 in the last quarter of 2003 and have since dipped to around £1750 (€2524) a tonne.

But soybean prices, the foundation of the Alleggra product, are not without their own fluctuation. In 2004 low inventories drove soybean prices to 15 year highs: and despite some relief at the end of the year, in February 2005 prices rose 20 per cent on January figures.

According to Hays, the Alleggra formulation can absorb much of the soy price fluctuations: "on a soybean hike of 100 per cent, we would see a 10 per cent rise,"​ he says.

Alleggra is squarely positioned as not only a 100 per cent egg alternative, but also to target the booming market for soy-derived ingredients: a market that continues to enjoy strong growth on the back of rising consumer demand for health-promoting food products.

After growth of well over 10 per cent in 2002, soy-based products again showed double figure growth in 2003, reaching a value of €1.5 billion, according to data from market analysts Prosoy​. This growth is slated to continue at the same pace until 2006.

In terms of food formulations, our ingredient can swing an end product in favour of health, says Hays.

"Alleggra is not only cholesterol free but is actively cholesterol lowering,"​ he adds.

Currently in two development trials with food makers "for muffin and quiche products"​, the ingredient has yet to reach an end product on the shelves, but Hays is aiming for this to change "by May this year".

Evidence of the market potential for the egg replacer, according to the British Egg Information Service in the UK alone 32 million eggs are consumed a day: and per head per year, just over 20 per cent of these eggs are used in food processing.

In 2004 the firm signed off a £350,000 contract with Britain's ministry of defence for Alleggra to replace the ministry's powdered egg rations.

Activities in the UK are almost fully commercial (to date a team of 12); with a contract manufacturer for the product based in Holland. Enjoying the Unilever link, Alleggra Foods also has access to Unilever's R&D team in The Netherlands.

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