updated 1/9/2004 11:34:07 AM ET 2004-01-09T16:34:07

In their relentless pursuit of a healthy diet, many consumers are turning to a new breed of egg.

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Designer eggs, produced by chickens fed sea kelp, flax seed and other nutritious ingredients, are finding their way to more and more markets and menus. Some consumers say they even taste better than regular eggs, and sales are booming.

“It’s like the kind of eggs I had when I was a kid,” shopper Liz Sigel, 56, said while buying a dozen large Organic Omega-3 eggs at a Santa Monica market. “It’s more dense than regular eggs.”

The trend is due in part to the popularity of low-carb regimens like the Atkins or South Beach diets and also to recent studies that suggest eggs are healthier than previously thought when it comes to cholesterol.

Protein diets pump sales
Eggland’s Best Eggs, the nation’s largest producer of designer eggs, saw a 25 percent jump in those sales in 2003, compared to 2002, said Laura Finlayson, a spokeswoman for the company.

In the past 18 months, the Pennsylvania-based company sold over a billion specialty eggs nationwide, with many coming from its two farms in California, she said.

Chino Valley Ranchers Farms, based in Arcadia, doubled its production of low-fat eggs in 2003, said David Will, general manager of the company.

“A lot of what’s pushing the sales is the protein diets, and people are more health-conscious,” he said.

Designer eggs now comprise nearly 5 percent of the $3 billion national egg market. The increased sales come at a time when overall egg prices are at an all-time high.

The average price of a dozen large eggs was $1.44 in November, the latest month figures are available, said Don Bell, a consultant for the national cooperative United Egg Producers. On average, designer eggs cost about $1 more per dozen than regular eggs.

The price surge came after Exotic Newcastle Disease thinned chicken flocks last year and lowered production.

A better egg?
Along with kelp and flax seed, chickens that lay low-fat eggs are fed canola oil or other types of non-animal fats.

Hens raised on the special diet produce eggs with lower saturated fat that are fortified with omega-3 fatty acid, iodine and vitamin E.

If marigold extract is added to their diet, they lay eggs high in lutein, a nutrient that helps maintain the health of the eye.

The higher prices don’t discourage buyers like Sigel, who paid $3.49 for a dozen designer eggs. She has been on the Atkins diet for five months and tries to eat as many organic products as possible.

“Food quality is not based upon price, it’s based upon quality,” she said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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