Egg prices are rising—more so than most other foods

Chickens may not be able to fly much, but the price of eggs is rising.

An ongoing outbreak of bird flu, combined with rising feed, fuel and labor costs, has led to a doubling of egg prices in the US over the past year, and has unleashed much sticker shock on grocery aisles.

The national average price for a dozen eggs hit $3.59 in November, up from $1.72 a year earlier, according to the latest government data. This puts a strain on consumer budgets and the bottom line of restaurants, bakeries and other food producers who rely heavily on eggs.

Grocery prices which increased by 12% in November drove high inflation, although the general trend of price increases slowed down a bit in the fall as the price of gas dropped.

But egg prices are higher than other foods – more so than chicken or turkey – because egg farmers are hit harder by bird flu. More than 43 million out of 58 million slaughtered birds last year to control the virus are egg-laying chickens, including some farms with more than a million birds each in the major egg-producing states. like Iowa.

Everyone who approaches the egg case at a Hy-Vee store in Omaha, “has a sour face,” said shopper Nancy Stom.

But despite rising costs, eggs remain relatively cheap compared to the price of other proteins such as chicken or beef, with a pound of chicken breast averaging $4.42 in November and a pound of ground beef sold for $4.85, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“It’s still cheap food,” Stom said. But the 70-year-old said that at these prices, he will keep a close eye on his eggs in the fridge and try to prevent them from spoiling before they are used.

If prices stay high, Kelly Fischer said she’ll start thinking more seriously about building a backyard chicken coop in Chicago because everyone in her family eats eggs.

“We (together with the neighbors) are thinking of building a chicken coop behind our houses, so in the end I hope not to buy it and have my own eggs and I think the cost will come to that,” said 46-year-old public school teacher. while shopping at HarvestsTime Foods on the city’s North Side. “For me, it’s more about the environmental impact and trying to buy local.”

In some places, it can be difficult to find eggs on the shelves. But the egg supplies in general remained because the total flock decreased only about 5% from its normal size of about 320 million chickens. Farmers work to replace their herds as quickly as possible after an outbreak.

Jakob Werner, 18, said he tries to find the cheapest eggs he can because he eats five or six of them a day as he tries to gain weight and build muscle.

“For a while, I stopped eating eggs because they were getting expensive. But because they’re my favorite food, I ended up going back to them,” said Werner, who lives in Chicago. “So I think for a few months I just stopped eating eggs, waiting for the price to drop. It never did. So now I’m shopping again.”

Purdue University agricultural economist Jayson Lusk said he believes in bird flu epidemic is the biggest driver of price increases. Unlike previous years, the virus remains throughout the summer and makes a resurgence last fall contaminate eggs and chicken farms.

“Bird flu is not the only cause, but I think it’s the main driver of what we’re experiencing right now,” Lusk said.

But the president and CEO of the American Egg Board trade group, Emily Metz, said she believes that all the increased costs faced by farmers last year were a bigger factor in the price increase than the bird flu.

“If you look at fuel costs going up, and you look at feed costs going up up to 60%, labor costs, packaging costs – all of that … that’s a bigger factor than the bird flu for sure ,” Metz said.

Jada Thomson, an agricultural economist at the University of Arkansas, said there will be some relief coming to egg prices in the next few months as egg farmers continue to replace their flocks. that was lost to last year’s bird flu and demand will ease now that people are done with their holiday baking.

But he said bird flu remains a wildcard that could further drive up prices if there are more outbreaks at egg farms.

The farmers do all they can to limit the spread, but the disease spreads easily through migrating wild birds and the virus can be picked up on clothing or vehicles.

“But there are some things that are out of our control,” Thompson said. “You can’t control nature sometimes.”

Food producers and restaurants are hurting because it is difficult to find good substitutes for eggs in their recipes.

Any drop in egg prices would be welcome at Patti Stobaugh’s two restaurants and two bakeries in Conway and Russellville, Arkansas, because all of her ingredients and supplies are more expensive these days. For some of his baked goods, Stobaugh switched to a less expensive frozen egg product, but he still buys eggs for all the breakfasts he serves.

A case of 15 dozen eggs dropped from $36 to $86 last year, but flour, butter, chicken and everything else he buys are also more expensive. Stobaugh said there was his “hyper vigilance about every little thing.”

He already raised his prices by 8% last year, and he may have to raise them again. It’s a delicate balance of trying not to cost people eating out and harm sales, but he doesn’t have much choice while trying to provide for his 175 employees.

“We have a lot of employees who work for us and we are responsible for making the paycheck every week and supporting their families. We take that seriously. But it’s definitely difficult,” Stobaugh said.

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