Unless you’re immune to sticker shock, you’ve probably noticed that the price of a dozen large eggs has seemingly doubled, compared to what you paid this time last year. In some states, it’s even tripled. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average retail price for a dozen large eggs in California is $7.37. It was $2.35 a year ago.
The worst part, however, is that cartons of inexpensive eggs are flying off the shelves faster than toilet paper was in 2020. Unless you’re a grocery store early bird, or you only buy organic, you may find yourself paying as much as $1 per egg. But that’s if you live in the Golden State. Nationally, the average retail price for a dozen large eggs is $3.59. Still, last year, it was just $1.72.
While it would be easy to blame inflation for the serious surge in price, it’s not that simple.
“Prices reflect several factors,” Emily Metz, President & CEO of the American Egg Board tells TODAY.com. In addition to inflation and supply chain challenges, Metz says egg farmers have also had to deal with a devastating bird flu.
A deadly bird flu
In fact, we’re currently living through the deadliest avian flu outbreak in history.
“Once one bird gets the flu, they all get taken out in short order,” Michael Swanson, a Wells Fargo economist, said on TODAY Thursday. He noted that the bird flu has reduced the overall supply of laying hens by 5% percent, year over year. Last year, the flu claimed the lives of more than 53 million birds.
All hope is not lost, though. “The good news is that our farms are recovering quickly,” insisted Metz. “In fact, most of the egg farms that were affected by bird flu have recovered and are back to producing eggs.”
Accusations of price gouging
Because of this, people are starting to question whether the avian flu is even to blame for the astronomical increase. Last week, Farm Action, an NGO for farmers that protects them from large corporations and monopolies, sent a letter to the FTC asking that it immediately open an investigation into the egg industry.
The letter insinuates that the real “culprit” behind the price hikes are industry leaders. It goes so far as to accuse them of colluding together to take advantage of inflation and the public’s limited knowledge of the industry, to “extract egregious profits.” The letter cites how Cal-Maine, which controls 20% of the retail egg market, reported gross profits of $535.3 million in 2022, compared to $50.4 million in 2021, according to a late December filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In a statement shared with TODAY.com, Cal-Maine says, “the domestic egg market has always been intensely competitive and highly volatile even under normal market circumstances.” Furthermore, the company claims that it does not set retail egg prices, and even at its high current prices, “the nutritional content of eggs remains a great value for consumers.”
As for the FTC, a spokesperson tells TODAY.com it doesn’t comment on letters, petitions or complaints it receives from third parties, and so far the FTC has not made any public statements.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection is reporting a 108% increase in egg products and poultry seized at ports of entry, especially the Mexican border. It’s illegal to bring raw eggs or poultry into the U.S., and individuals caught smuggling eggs into the country face civil penalties and fines. All seized eggs are incinerated.
How consumers are coping
Still, most consumers aren’t smuggling eggs. In response to the shortage and high prices, many are using humor as a coping mechanism. All you have to do is log onto Twitter or TikTok to see an abundance of egg shortage memes and jokes (many referring to eggs as a new currency). For many shoppers, these jokes are taking some of the sting out of the whole situation. For others, laughing isn’t making it easier to shell out the big bucks. The frustration is real.
Jessica Martin, a 34-year-old mom in Montana, refuses to pay more than $4 for a dozen eggs. Unfortunately, her local grocery store, Albertsons, has none in stock for less than $5.29. The brand she usually buys — which comes from a local Hutterite colony — is sold out. “I even looked for those little six-packs of eggs,” she said on TODAY. “The store didn’t have those either!”
Fortunately for Martin, a nurse, her livelihood doesn’t depend on the use and sale of farm fresh eggs. That’s not the case for everyone though. Taki Kastansis, CEO and founder of the egg-centric restaurant chain Yolk, told the Washington Post that last year’s food costs were about four times higher than what they were in previous years. Kastansis and his team have gone from paying about $18 for a case to $70 for a case. It’s cutting into their bottom line, so much so that they’ve had to remove certain items from their menu.
Small business owners, especially in the bakery industry, are having to rethink their recipes as well. Poulette Bakeshop, a beloved family-owned bakery in Parker, Colorado, says eggs have become its most expensive ingredient. They’re even more costly than the premium Valrhona chocolate they import from the south of France.
Meanwhile, some Americans who raise laying hens as a hobby are starting to second guess their side hustle. “I increased my price from $2.50 a dozen to $3 a dozen last month,” Becky Jackson, a bookkeeper in Montana who, in her free time, supplies eggs to a handful of customers, said on TODAY. “Even at $3 a dozen, I’m still losing money.”
When will egg prices go back to normal?
According to Metz, egg farmers are doing everything in their power to keep costs down and grocery stores stocked. And the good news is the USDA’s most recent Egg Market News Report shows egg prices are finally trending downward. Still, experts say it’s going to be a while before consumers can feel comfortable making quiche again.