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Monroe entrepreneur cracks the egg-substitute market

Sales of the Vegg and ancillary products last year topped $130,000 for Rocky Shepheard of Hamilton Township.

It doesn’t deliver the delicate sound of a hard-boiled egg tapped on the edge of a kitchen counter, but an alternative yolk created by a Monroe County entrepreneur could become a sizzling success among vegans, vegetarians and those on a cholesterol-free diet.

It doesn’t deliver the delicate sound of a hard-boiled egg tapped on the edge of a kitchen counter, but an alternative yolk created by a Monroe County entrepreneur could become a sizzling success among vegans, vegetarians and those on a cholesterol-free diet.

So grab the OJ and your favorite skillet-and-omelet recipe from “The Vegg Cookbook” — everything but a carton of eggs — and whip up the Vegg, a vegetable-based yolk substitute that some swear came from a freshly laid egg.

“What inspired me, being a vegan and having no vegan egg options, was to create a product that tasted and would look and feel like a real yolk,” said Rocky Shepheard, who hatched the Vegg in 2011. “I wanted the same rich gooey-ness, aroma and deep golden-orange color of the real thing.”

It’s just four dry ingredients — fortified nutritional yeast; black salt from India, which imparts the sulfury, eggy smell; sodium alginate, a seaweed derivative that delivers the egg-like viscosity; and beta carotene, found naturally in eggs, for color.

Cholesterol free, gluten-free and kosher, the Vegg is high in vitamins A and B12.

Blend a teaspoon of the Vegg with a quarter-cup water, and you have an unctuous, yolky consistency in seconds. Even upon unsealing the 4.5-ounce package ($11.99 retail), there’s an immediate, recognizable smell of eggs.

“Some vegan customers are freaked out and think they’re eating real eggs,” Shepheard said. “I often hear, ‘Dude, are you sure?’ ”

Also motivating the former graphic designer with a biology degree from Youngstown State University in Ohio was his concern for the treatment of mass-produced poultry. It’s a position that helped attract early support for the Vegg from such animal rights organizations as Compassion Over Killing, based in Washington, D.C.

“For all these reasons, I just got inspired to start working in a kitchen backed with about $5,000 of my own money,” said Shepheard of Hamilton Township. “After much trial and error to get the right balance of ingredients, I came up with a product that everyone seems to love.”

With sales last year of $130,000 and a growing domestic market and overseas sales in the United Kingdom, Germany and Israel, including the first Vegg wholesale shipment to Norway in April, Shepheard now uses a packaging company, McCarthy Spice & Blends Inc. in St. Louis, to help with production and shipments.

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