Soaring US egg prices put pressure on consumers, businesses

Chickens may not be able to fly very far, but the price of eggs is skyrocketing.

The bird flu epidemic, combined with higher food, fuel and labor costs, has caused U.S. egg prices to double in the past year, and has caused a spike in grocery store prices.

The average price of a dozen eggs hit $3.59 in November, up from $1.72 a year earlier, according to government data. This is putting stress on consumer budgets and bottom lines for restaurants, bakeries and other food producers who rely heavily on eggs.

Grocery prices, which rose 12% in November, are boosting inflation, although inflation eased slightly in the fall as oil prices fell.

But egg prices are higher than other foods – more than chicken or turkey – because egg farmers have been hit hard by bird flu. More than 43 million of the 58 million birds killed last year to control the virus were egg-laying hens, including farms with more than a million birds in major egg-producing states like Iowa.

Anyone who approaches the Hy-Vee egg store in Omaha, “has a sad face,” Nancy Stom said.

But despite the price increase, eggs remain cheap compared to the price of other proteins such as chicken or beef, with a pound of chicken going for $4.42 on average in November and a pound of beef selling for $4.85, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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“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 not to spoil them before he gets used to them.

If prices were to rise this much, Kelly Fischer said she would seriously consider building a chicken coop in Chicago because everyone in her family eats eggs.

“We (and the neighbors) are thinking of building a chicken coop in our backyard, so in the end I’m hoping I won’t have to buy and have my own eggs and I think it’s worth it,” the 46-year-old public school teacher said. and shop at HarvestTime Foods on the north side of the city. “For me, it’s about the environment and trying to buy local.”

In some areas, it is difficult to find eggs on the shelves. But the egg drop continues because the total livestock has decreased by about 5% from its original size of about 320 million hens. Farmers have been working to replace their livestock as soon as the outbreak is over.

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

“For a while, I stopped eating eggs because they were expensive. “But since it’s my favorite food, I went back to it in the end,” said Werner, who lives in Chicago. “So I think I stopped eating eggs for a few months, waiting for the price to come down. It didn’t. So now I’m buying it again.”

Customers look for cracked eggs before they buy them at a supermarket in Los Angeles
Customers look for cracked eggs before shopping at a supermarket in Los Angeles on Sunday.I RYU / VCG via Getty VCG via Getty Images

Purdue University economist Jayson Lusk said he believes the bird flu outbreak is a major driver of the price hike. Unlike previous years, the virus persists throughout the summer and resumes in late fall to kill eggs and chickens.

But he said bird flu remains a wild virus that could still drive up prices if there are large outbreaks at egg farms.

Farmers are doing everything they can to reduce the spread, but the disease is easily spread by wild birds that migrate and the virus can be picked up on clothes or cars.

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“But there are some things we have no control over,” Thompson said. Sometimes you can’t control the environment.

Food manufacturers and restaurants are hurting because it is difficult to find 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 products are expensive these days. For some of his baked goods, Stobaugh has switched to a less expensive frozen egg, but he still buys eggs for all of his breakfast dishes.

A case of 15 eggs has gone from $36 to $86 last year, but flour, butter, chicken and everything else they buy are expensive. Stobaugh said he “cares about every little thing.”

He has already raised his prices by 8% in the last year, and may need to raise them again soon. It’s easy to try not to spend too much money to feed people and hurt the business, but he doesn’t have much to do when trying to provide for his 175 employees.

“We have a lot of employees who work for us and we have a responsibility to pay them every week and take care of their families. We take that very seriously. But it’s been difficult,” Stobaugh said.

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