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Egg marketing in Canada – past, present and future


May 18, 2010
By Treena Hein

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There are those who scoff at the billions of dollars that are spent
marketing all types of products around the world every year, but the
fact is, marketing matters. It’s about capturing people’s attention,
changing their views – showing them through an ever-increasing variety
of means how a particular product can fulfil their needs and desires.

There are those who scoff at the billions of dollars that are spent marketing all types of products around the world every year, but the fact is, marketing matters. It’s about capturing people’s attention, changing their views – showing them through an ever-increasing variety of means how a particular product can fulfil their needs and desires.

cracking 
Recent EFC campaigns include the use of Olympians  Hayley Wickenheiser and Kim St-Pierre to promote the energy of eggs, as well as correct misconceptions about
cholesterol with family physicians.

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Just how important marketing is was clearly demonstrated in Canada in 2005. “That year, we temporarily halted marketing,” says Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) Marketing and Nutrition Manager Bonnie Cohen. “We wanted to get a ‘lay of the land,’ and make sure we were doing the right things.” During this hiatus, annual egg sales across the country – which had been sitting at about 213,000 dozen – dropped five per cent (nearly 10 million dozen). It took several years to recover the loss and, by 2009, sales had reached 260,000 dozen.

What happened during that year demonstrates a long-term global marketing trend. “We did a lot of research,” says Cohen, “research which showed that campaigns promoting eggs as healthy energy were the right way to go. Historically, very little consumer research was done in marketing eggs.”

At the start, Canadian egg marketing was mostly targeted at mothers. Consumers had traditional choices (white or brown, small, medium, large, and extra large eggs) and the avenues for reaching consumers with ad campaigns were the traditional ones: TV, radio and print publications.

But egg consumption steadily dropped, starting in the late 1950s. “Part of this had to do with rapidly changing lifestyles,” notes Cohen. “The rise of single-parent families and double-income families meant adults didn’t have time to prepare the typical bacon and egg breakfast. It was also due to U.S. scientists wondering publicly if dietary cholesterol found in foods like eggs and shrimp could cause elevated blood cholesterol, which is not the case.”

In 1968, the Canadian Egg Producers Council and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture sponsored the first national conference of egg producers, which led to the establishment of the Canadian Egg Marketing Agency (now Egg Farmers of Canada) by 1972. Although its main purpose was national supply management, Cohen says, “If you go to the earliest of the Agency’s annual reports, you’ll probably find a marketing committee in existence, and the provincial boards prior to that time may have been doing some promotional campaigns, too.” 

One of the largest early marketing campaigns taken on by CEMA in 1984 featured Olympic swimmer Alex Baumann. Marketing today has some similarities with that early campaign – the use of Olympians to promote eggs as healthy athletic food – but there are differences too.

Meanwhile, however, egg consumption in Canada continued to drop to an all-time low in 1995. Similarly to 2005, EFC didn’t run any television advertising that year. In 1996, the Agency returned to television advertising, launching its producer portrait campaign, featuring egg farmers from various provinces.

Today, factors affecting the marketing of all food products – concerns over animal welfare, a strong desire for convenience and a strong interest in foods with health-promoting ingredients (“functional foods”) are now all important aspects of marketing eggs. “There is much more choice today,” notes Cohen. “We have conventional, free-run and free-range eggs, eggs with added omega-3 fats, and organic eggs.” Advertising opportunities are also more diverse now, and EFC uses the Internet, sponsoring events and advertising through outdoor venues in addition to traditional mediums.

Changing population demographics have also been a boon to egg sales. “Almost 60 per cent of Canadians who consume eggs the most are adults over 60, and there are more aging boomers every day,” says Cohen. “However, our main advertising target is all women 25 and older because women tend to make the purchasing and health decisions for the family.”

The marketing EFC now engages in is still focused on correcting embedded perceptions about cholesterol. “The original tests that led to public concerns over cholesterol were done in the 1950s on rabbits and extrapolated to humans,” says Cohen, who is also a registered dietician and holds a master’s degree in nutritional science. “Rabbits have a different physiology than humans in that they are almost completely herbivorous, where we humans have an omnivorous diet that includes protein.” And, although it’s been well-established through years of research that it’s not dietary cholesterol but a person’s intake of saturated versus unsaturated fats that affects the “good” and “bad” cholesterol in the blood, this still isn’t clear to consumers.

It’s not even clear to doctors. “Many still have misperceptions about cholesterol and so, about a year ago, we started a pilot “physician education program” in Ontario,” says Cohen. Three trained representatives made presentations to individual doctors, using a visual aid, explaining the science of why dietary cholesterol does not impact blood cholesterol levels and that eating an egg a day is OK. “It’s been very successful,” she notes. “We made some changes to the process and now we have one person for each province who does this work full time, targeting doctors who have cholesterol-concerned patients. We plan to reach 4,500 doctors this year.”  

About 30 per cent of doctors who receive the presentation are considered to be advocates, which means that they’re comfortable recommending an egg a day to their high cholesterol patients. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, but it’s a good start,” says Cohen. “Egg marketing boards in other countries have contacted us about this program because they can’t believe how well it’s working – they want to know everything.” EFC is also reaching doctors with advertorials in scientific journals, and reaching their patients through egg-positive brochures and posters in waiting rooms.

The debut of omega-3 eggs in the early ’90s has also helped consumers view eggs as a healthier food. “Many doctors are recommending omega-3 eggs to their patients, and consumers certainly think of them as a healthier choice,” notes Cohen. Omega-3 eggs make up 12 per cent of egg sales nationally, with Ontario having the highest share at 15 per cent.

In addition to the doctor education initiative, EFC has a number of initiatives marketing ‘eggs for healthy energy.’ “We sponsor the CanWest CanSpell spelling bee, walking and running events held by The Running Room, and Team Canada hockey and soccer,” says Cohen. “We have TV ads and other ads showing endorsement from Olympic/World Champion female hockey players Hayley Wickenheiser and Kim St.-Pierre.” A PR tour with Hayley ended in March and a media blitz was held with Kim in early April. “We did in-store promotions with both of them giving away toques,” says Cohen, “and we needed to order 10,000 more toques than we had originally anticipated!”

When asked about the risks of working with celebrities, Cohen says EFC never had any concerns about Hayley and Kim. “These young women have a long track record of being in public, and they both work very hard,” she says. “We are completely comfortable with them.”

Cohen notes that the provincial egg marketing boards “look at what EFC is doing and tailor it. Nationally we are focusing on soccer and hockey, and provincially they are involved with other sports activities as well, such as marathons and university athletics.”

While marketing eggs in Canada is similar to the marketing in other parts of the world, there are some differences as well. “The American Egg board is using web-based social media, which we may use in some fashion in the future also,” says Cohen. “On their Facebook page, the American Egg Board recently sent out 50,000 coupons for a free dozen

eggs of any brand at any store, and their hits went from 500 to 50,000 almost overnight.”

In Europe, they are marketing a much greater range of products: from eggs raised in different housing types, in different regions and using different traditions, to duck and quail eggs, eggs from rare heritage breeds and extra-fresh eggs. There is an increasing demand for free-run and free-range eggs in European Union countries, where conventional laying cages will be banned by 2012. 

There is also a strong focus is on marketing the “old-fashioned farm,” in European egg marketing, and Cohen says promoting the image of the farmer is something EFC is looking into, as they did in 1996. “Not so much to try and boost consumption,” she says, “but to build trust with the consumer. It’s a benefit to everyone to understand how eggs get to their table.”


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