Telling eggs apart? A lot is in the feed

Kreher's, WNY's largest egg farm, produces eggs for Eggland's Best

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — As the largest egg farm in Western New York, Kreher’s Farm Fresh Eggs produces over 400 million eggs per year.

Kreher’s hens lay both conventional and organic eggs, although white conventional egg make up 80 percent of their business.

Kurt Kreher
Kurt Kreher runs a farm which produces millions of eggs. Those eggs are sold by stores across New York Sate.

But, the growth in the egg business is in the organics and the specialty eggs like Eggland’s Best which Kreher’s produces for the Western New York market.

All of this makes for many choices for shoppers who don’t always know what they are paying for.

News 4 Investigates accompanied Kreher and his staff on a visit to their organic farm in Town of Alabama, Genesee County.  Kreher’s also operates farms in Clarence and Wayne County. Their eggs are sold throughout Western New York under various store brands.

“We know the families in Western New York are familiar with the Kreher name,” said Kurt Kreher, one of seven partners in the business started by his grandparents. “We’ve been doing this for 90 years, four generations.  We want to maintain the trust level that the consumers and families in Western New York have in us.”

The differences between eggs have a lot to do with what the chickens are fed, Kreher said.

The farm enlists a nutritionist who designs a daily feed mix to keep the chickens healthy.
Kreher’s grows much of the grains and supplements the supply by buying from farmers from throughout Western New York.

Hens fed grains diet

Hens laying conventional white eggs eat an all grains diet, as do all of the Kreher farm chickens.
“The nutrition in those eggs are great, safe, wholesome, nutritious food,” said Kreher.

While conventional eggs don’t get as much attention at the supermarket as the specialty varieties, there’s no reason to shun them, Kreher said.

“Conventional eggs are produced in a very safe way,” said Kreher. “The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) passed an egg safety rule in 2010 and that lays out for the whole country a system of egg safety, egg production that we have followed in New York State since the 1990s.”

Chickens producing organic eggs are given a diet of organically grown grains plus a vitamin and mineral supplement.

Those eggs can cost $2.00 more per dozen.

“Most of the ingredients that is in the feed are organic grains that we grow ourselves from farming about 3000 acres producing organic corn, soybeans, wheat, clover,” Kreher said.

Producing eggs for Eggland’s Best

Kreher’s is also one of 20 franchisees in 31 states that produce organic and conventional eggs for Eggland’s Best.  As a supplier, Kreher’s agrees to feed the chickens a patented diet developed and tweaked regularly by Eggland’s.

Kreher says he feeds an enriched diet to all of his organic chickens.

“We actually wanted to have our organic eggs be a nutrient enhanced egg,” he said.

Eggland’s Best traces its roots to the Japanese Hikari egg and an iodine enriched feeding formula.

Eggland’s set out in 1992 to offer consumers what they consider a better egg by feeding chickens feed with extra vitamins and minerals. Egg sales were in a slump over fears of high cholesterol yet customers told Eggland’s that they liked eggs and missed them.

“We’ve provided the customer a product that is nutritionally superior, better tasting and an overall better egg that stays fresher longer,” said Charlie Lanktree, president and CEO of Eggland’s Best, headquartered in suburban Philadelphia.

“So if you provide a better product, one, people who had cut back on eggs may eat more eggs, people who use other eggs may use Eggland’s best and some people who gave up eggs entirely have come back and started eating Eggland’s Best eggs.”

Eggland’s feed consists of grains, canola oil plus a supplement of rice bran, alfalfa, sea kelp and Vitamin E.

Eggland eggs are branded with the red EB stamp, therefore it markets its eggs as being more nutritious with 25% less saturated fat, 10 times more Vitamin E, four times more Vitamin D, three times more Vitamin B12 and higher levels of Omega 3 fatty acids and lutein.

Eggland’s feed recipe includes ingredients that the company says affect taste:  Like Kelp harvested from the cold waters of the Atlantic Northeast. And, there’s no animal fat.

Eggland’s recently tweaked its recipe to lower its egg to 60 calories compared to 70 for an ordinary egg.

On its web site, Eggland’s list a chart of the Eggland’s egg compared to ordinary or conventional eggs.

For example:  the Eggland’s egg has one gram of saturated fat compared to 1.5 grams for the generic egg; 175 milligrams of cholesterol compared to 185 and 115 milligrams of Omega 3 compared to 49 milligrams.

The claim of 10 times more Vitamin E comes from this explanation from Dr. Bert Slaugh, Eggland’s director of quality assurance based on ordinary egg information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nutrient Database

Slaugh wrote in an email:  “A regular egg has 0.52 mg of vitamin E.   One mg of natural vitamin E converts to 1.49 IU’s.  Therefore, 0.52 mg equals 0.77 IU’s.  The Eggland’s Best vitamin E level actually averages over 8 IU’s, which is more than 10 times more than 0.77 IU’s for an ordinary egg (2.58% DV).”

The comparison of vitamins and minerals in the Eggland’s egg and the conventional egg are based on the Daily Value that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends for adults and children four years or older based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

A close look at the comparison chart on the Eggland’s Best web site shows that some of the differences are in miniscule amounts, in milligrams or micrograms which is 1,000th of a gram.

For example, Eggland’s has 1.25 micrograms of Vitamin B12 compared to .45 for the conventional egg.

And, Eggland’s has 200 micrograms of Lutein compared to 145 for the generic egg.

Eggland’s prominently displays the differences on their egg carton.

Do these differences matter?

Eggland’s Lanktree says they do.

“Every little bit helps,” said Lanktree. “Even small amounts of lutein in eggs, most is absorbed in your body through the yolk…it all adds up.”

Lanktree noted that the egg shouldn’t be all that a person consumes for nutrition.

As for other vitamins or minerals, Lanktree defended listing them on their cartons.

“Anything above 10 percent would be significant,” said Lanktree.  He says Eggland’s can market its egg as an excellent source if the vitamin or mineral represents 20 percent of the recommended daily value.

“So an Eggland’s Best egg if it would represent more than 20 percent of the recommended Daily Value for let’s say Vitamin E then you are able to say, yes, that is a very significant amount,” Lanktree said.

For other vitamins where the amount is lower like Vitamin B12, Eggland’s can still market its egg as a “good source” of that vitamin, he added.

Specialty egg sales up

It’s the specialty eggs like Eggland’s and organics that are posting double digit sales gains in an otherwise flat egg market.

“The growth in the overall egg production is really in the specialty eggs, organic, cage free, Eggland’s Best,” said Kreher.

Kreher’s, which expanded into the organic egg business in 2009, has seen phenomenal growth in demand. “This year it’s over 30 percent,” said Kreher comparing the same week this year to last year.

Eggland’s has captured about eight percent of the national market and 14 percent of the market in the Buffalo-Rochester region.  The company has been posting double digit sales gains even though its conventional and organics cost about $1.00 more than other brands.

What does the consumer get for that extra money?

“They taste much better. They’re more expensive but the price is worth it,” said Michelle King-Moore while shopping at Niagara County Produce in Clarence.

Jeanne Durawa knows about Eggland’s but doesn’t buy them. ” I usually look for a good buy,” said Durawa while shopping at Tops. “I know they are a little more expensive. That’s how I shop.”

Crystal Hoey is also a price conscious shopper but she likes Eggland’s for its taste and for the extra vitamins.  “I have eye issues so I think that’s very important.”

Brown vs. White

The egg section offers even more choices like brown and white eggs.

Is there any difference?
“A different chicken ,” says a laughing Hoey while shopping at Tops. “I don’t know.”

“I want to guess that a brown egg may be organic but I don’t think that’s the right answer,” said Lucy Matteliano while shopping at Tops.

Kreher says there’s no difference except that brown hens lay brown eggs and white hens lay white eggs.

The brown eggs that Kreher’s sells are usually organic. But that’s because Kreher selects them to get the organic feed.

He figures that’s what customers expect.

Cage free and Free Range

Another difference for shoppers is how hens are raised. It results in labels on organic egg cartons like cage free or free range.

At Kreher’s the hens producing organic eggs live in a cage-free environment. Kreher said the open setting allows the hens to roam within a certain area that includes a porch. “The porches allow them to have access to the outdoors, to be in the sunshine.”

The hens that lay the conventional white eggs are raised in cages that meet federal guidelines. “Conventional housing requires space of 67 square inches per hen,” said Kreher. “The science shows the well being of the hens is perfectly fine in conventional systems,” said Kreher.

How chickens live – an issue for some shoppers – is under federal study and could lead to changes.

“We are paying attention to what the results will be. Our parents raised us with the mantra,  ‘nothing is as constant as change’ so there probably will be changes in the coming years on how we raise chickens. For now what we meet all of the welfare standards for what the scientific community has proscribed for hen well being.”

Kreher’s does not raise free range chickens which can roam in an open field. His grandparents abandoned that method to protect chickens from rodents and wild birds that can infect them.

“There is growing consumer interest in free range and we are paying attention to it. As the science evolves, maybe that might be in our future again someday,” Kreher said.

When selecting eggs, shoppers may see the label antibiotic or hormone free. Hormones are not given to egg-laying chickens, Kreher noted.

When it comes to antibiotics, Kreher’s does not stock them and uses them only if prescribed by a veterinarian to fight an illness. But, even then, antibiotics are never given to chickens laying organic or Eggland’s Best eggs. If a chicken is sickened it would be removed from the flock.

The chickens are vaccinated four times during their lives so they can fight any contamination from the Salmonella bacteria.

Kreher said his farm has not had a Salmonella outbreak and his staff works hard to keep it that way.

“What we do in addition to all of the testing we wash and disinfect all of our chicken houses between flocks so when we house a new flock of chickens it is going into a freshly washed and disinfected building,” said Kreher.

“All chickens are vaccinated four times as they are  being raised so their immune system is fully ready to ward off an infection if they ever did somehow get exposed to it.”

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