Food Safety Search Leads to Colored Eggs

by Susan E. Lindt

Lancaster Intelligencer Sunday News

February 12, 2006

Paul D. Sauder was looking to sell convenience in the form of a hard-cooked egg for people who didn't even have 12 minutes to spare in the kitchen.

What he ended up with was a product that plays a starring role every year in a massive Easter egg hunt on the White House lawn.

More than a decade ago, Sauder, president of Lititz-based R.W.Sauder, Inc., thought he had developed a technique for cooking, packing, and delivering hard-cooked eggs to area grocery store shelves.

Consumers merely had to open the carton, crack the shells and eat.  As it turned out, Sauder was counting his chickens before they hatched.

"That's what triggered the whole thing - convenience," Sauder said. "The problem was that shelf life of hard-cooked eggs is shorter than it is for regular eggs.  I didn't know that.  I learned that the hard way."

Not long after shipping out his first cartons of 8-count cooked eggs to stores, Sauder was inundated with calls from grocers.  The moisture retained in the eggs during the cooking process had rapidly turned them moldy and green.

Sauder was back to the drawing board.  But he had a new idea.  If he could find a way to seal the shells from moisture in the cooking process, not only could he keep the mold at bay, the shelf life of the eggs would be significantly longer than uncooked eggs.  Sauder experimented with painting the eggs in a white edible shellac - a sort of sealant.  the next time Sauder shipped out the hard-cooked eggs to grocery stores, they didn't come back.

"We sold them in stores with a white sealant," Sauder said. "Once we got that down, the next step to making them colored was not a big jump."

 

                                                                   

    Ethan Sauder, 5th generation Sauder, enjoys his first Easter with Sauder's Colored Easter Eggs.

 

Producing colored eggs wasn't really in Sauder's mind at the time.  But he had long received requests from the community at Easter time for cooked, colored eggs that were safe to leave unrefrigerated for the duration of egg hunts.

While regular store-bought egg dyes safely add color to eggs, they don't add shelf life because they don't seal the shell.  Over the years, those planning Easter egg hunts began to forego tradition for practicality by hiding anything other than hard-cooked eggs, which shouldn't be consumed after being unrefrigerated for more than two hours.

But Sauder thought if he just added color to the sealant, his hard-cooked eggs could be unrefrigerated for at least up to eight hours.

Sauder's teams worked on designing machines to rapidly spin and color the eggs.  And about 10 years ago, Sauder's colored, cooked eggs made their splashy Easter-time debut in red, yellow, green, orange, purple, and blue.

"We use shellac like the coloring on M&Ms," Sauder said.  "But it's the food safety of the Easter eggs that has really given us the sales.  Before, people planning these Easter egg hunts were going to plastic eggs and other items because they didn't want people getting sick from eggs laying out there so long."

The tub-shaped machine that colors Sauder's eggs runs 24 hours a day leading up to Easter to churn out 540,000 stunning eggs for the holiday.  R.W.Sauder starts stocking grocery store shelves four weeks before Easter with 6-count cartons of colored eggs.  By Easter, they're sold out thanks again to the convenience concept.

"It's a really neat item for grandparents and others who don't want to go through the mess of dying eggs but want to have colored eggs around for the grandkids to hunt at Easter time," Sauder said.  "For most people who enjoy coloring the eggs and don't mind a mess, these aren't usually an option."

Anyone who has found an egg in the Lititz Lions Club Easter egg hunt has enjoyed a Sauder colored egg.  Dozens and dozens of those eggs leave the county for greener pastures, including 7,000 hidden in a giant annual egg hunt at the state capital.  For the past three years, a whopping 11,000 Sauder eggs have traveled all the way to Washington, D.C., for a massive public hunt on the lawn of the White House.

Sauder said he knows of only one other company in the country producing colored eggs, which might explain the after-Easter demand for them.

Over the years, R.W.Sauder has produced red, white, and blue eggs for Independence Day celebrations;  red and green eggs for Christmas sales; blue and white eggs for Penn State University football rallies; and gold eggs for an occasion when former Governor Tom Ridge hosted governors from across the country.

And Sauder is open to suggestions.  He said his best ideas - just like the one for Sauder's colored eggs - have come from talking to the public about what they want.

"That's where I get my ideas," Sauder said.  "We'll do anything that can generate more enthusiasm and sell more eggs."