The bizarre opportunity in laser-printed eggs

Every day in America, millions of perfectly good eggs are chucked out, says Tom Bulford. But this British penny share has come up with a clever answer to cutting down the waste.

If you took all the eggs that are thrown away in the United States each year you could make a very large omelette. In fact, it would be the size of Manhattan!

This is one of the remarkable facts that I learned while watching an entertaining company web-cast this week. And it presents a nice investment opportunity that I want to tell you about today.

How five billion eggs disappear each year

Ever wondered what happens to the eggs after a shopper finds a cracked one in the carton? Well, it might surprise you that most supermarkets simply throw the whole box away. Given that most US shoppers tend to go for supersize boxes of just about anything that is edible, that typically means that a dozen eggs are lost for the sake of one crack.

Now, if just a few eggs got thrown away each year, it would hardly matter. But that Manhattan-sized omelette could feed plenty of hungry mouths. It takes a lot of eggs to make one this size. How many exactly?

Well, first I’ll tell you that there are 280 million hens in the USA, and they lay 72 billion eggs per year – that’s about 250 each by the way. But about five billion of these never get to the dining table. They are thrown away. Wal-Mart alone discards 500 million eggs every year – that is more than one million each day!

One solution, one might think, would be to donate these to the poor and hungry. But in fact they are simply tossed into a refuse bin.

This is a shocking waste of good nutrition. And I dare say that the same thing happens in this country and elsewhere.


Why is it allowed?

The first reason is this. If an egg is broken, the supermarket does not have a substitutes’ bench of replacement eggs of the same, size, grade and age to pop into the empty slot. According to the web-cast I’ve just listened to, ‘if a damaged egg were replaced by another one, the US Department of Agriculture could not guarantee the carton’s freshness’. It is clearly too much trouble to attach a label stating that “this box contains only 11 eggs”, while the threat of litigious consumers returning to the store to demand reparation for their missing egg is no doubt too terrible to risk.

The other problem is salmonella. If there is an outbreak of this illness, the first step is to trace the eggs back to the farm from which they came. But if the box contained eleven eggs from one farm and one egg from another farm, the traceability problem would become twice as challenging. So billions of eggs are thrown out every day, which is bad enough.

But the production of these discarded eggs required ten billion gallons of water – the same amount that would gush from your garden hosepipe if you left it on for two thousand years! Getting these eggs from farm to supermarket shelf also used up twenty-nine million gallons of gasoline – enough to drive round the equator twenty-nine thousand times.

Here’s the answer!

So it is well worth doing something about the problem of cracked eggs, and a solution has been found – laser printing.

Printing barcodes, sell-by dates and traceability codes on food is commonplace these days and can of course be found on egg cartons. But egg shells have, to date, proved just too fragile to receive the treatment. Now though a new laser light system of printing, which is completely organic and uses no chemicals or ink, can safely mark each individual egg.

This will not stop eggs from cracking, but it will mean that a broken egg can be replaced by one with identical origins, relieving the need to throw away eleven perfectly good eggs. It should provide reassurance for egg farmers and cut supermarket waste. And consumers, if they are really interested, can enter the code of an egg online and see exactly where it has come from.

Contributing vital technology to this programme is a British company that has, for years, been a leader in this field of printing. It’s a great story actually. Bizarre yes, but a great opportunity.

It is also a share that could be a candidate for your Isa. This tax year you can put up to £11,280 into your Isa, where it will be safely out of reach of the taxman. In fact, the September edition of Red Hot Penny Shares includes this and some other suggestions for your Isa.

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