The Truth About Soaring Egg Prices
You’ve probably heard this in the news and all over social media by now: egg prices have been higher than normal over the last several months. In fact, according to food market data, the average price of a dozen eggs in the United States a year ago was under $1.50. As of January 2023, they were as high as $8 per dozen.
This seemingly meteoric rise in prices has resulted in a myriad of jokes, conspiracy theories, and even accusations of price gouging being posted online, but industry leaders say there was no sinister plan developed by egg producers to raise prices. Instead, there were three main factors that created the perfect storm for the spike:
1. COST INCREASES: A direct result of rising inflation in 2022 was an increase in the cost of materials egg suppliers need to raise their birds. The prices of corn and soybeans, both of which are used in feed, went up last year, and transportation costs, specifically gas prices, shot up too. This resulted in significant erosion in just about every farm’s profit margins and forced most to raise their wholesale prices.
2. AVIAN INFLUENZA: As prices were already on the rise due to cost increases, the poultry industry was hit in 2022 by the biggest outbreak of avian influenza in history. Since last spring, over 50 million birds have been lost to the disease, sending the egg supply of commercial layers down at least 5%. To keep their flocks away from waterfowl, which are the main transmitter of avian influenza, farms had to invest more heavily in biosecurity than expected. This led to affected suppliers having to yet again increase the wholesale prices of their eggs to account for both these extra costs and the loss of income they experienced.
3. INCREASED DEMAND: It’s normal for egg prices to climb a bit at the holidays as people are using more eggs than they typically do in holiday meals and baked goods. That happened again in late 2022, but on top of this expected increase, there was already higher-than-usual demand for eggs due to high inflation; for months, shoppers had been trading down to save on grocery costs and were choosing eggs as a main source of protein instead of meat. If that wasn’t enough, news of rising egg prices spread like wildfire online in late 2022, which resulted in panic-buying in some parts of the U.S. To prevent more loss of income as their layers replenished supply, egg producers had to consider more wholesale price increases, which is what has led to the higher price tag you’ve seen on a dozen eggs in stores lately.
The good news is we’re on our way back to normal here in Wisconsin, at least for now. Whether prices return to normal and remain there depends, however. Suppliers already affected by avian influenza will need to replace the layers they lost, which can take up to six months. If new layers don’t produce eggs quickly enough, more flocks are hit by the disease in the spring, the rate of inflation doesn’t begin to fall, and demand doesn’t stabilize, prices may stay put for longer.
On the bright side, even at their abnormally high prices, eggs continue to be a fairly inexpensive source of nutrition compared to other products. As consumers, all we can do at this point is hope flocks can be restored and remain free of avian influenza this year. And we can also avoid over buying eggs so demand returns to normal levels. This will help prices go back down so we can all grab a carton without gawking at the price sooner rather than later.
This article was originally published in the March/April 2023 issue of our bi-monthly newsletter, The Morsel. If you’d like to read more stories like this one and stay up to date on the latest co-op news and events, pick up a print copy in-store on your next grocery run or find more news on our website here.