Maybe chickens can’t fly very far, but the price of eggs is going up.
A prolonged bird flu outbreak, combined with rising feed, fuel and labor costs, has caused U.S. egg prices to more than double in the past year, creating plenty of sticker shock in grocery aisles.
The national average price of a bag of eggs was $3.59 in November, up from $1.72 a year ago, according to the latest government data. This puts stress on consumer budgets and the incomes of restaurants, bakeries and other food producers who rely more heavily on eggs.
Food prices, which rose 12% in November, are driving inflation, although the overall pace of price increases has slowed slightly since the fall as gas prices ease.
But egg prices have risen significantly more than other foods – even more so than chicken or turkey meat – as egg farmers have been hit harder by bird flu. Of the 58 million birds culled to control the virus over the past year, more than 43 million were egg-laying chickens, including some farms with more than a million birds in major egg-producing states like Iowa.
At Omaha’s Hy-Vee grocery store, anyone approaching a case of eggs has a “sour face,” said shopper Nancy Stom.
Despite the price increase, eggs remain relatively cheap compared to the price of other proteins such as chicken or beef, with a pound of chicken breast selling for an average of $4.42 in November and a pound of ground beef for $4.85, according to the bureau. Labor Statistics.
“It’s still cheap food,” Stom said. But the 70-year-old said that at these prices, she would keep a closer eye on her eggs in the fridge and try not to let them spoil without using them.
If prices stay this 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 (neighbors) are thinking of building a chicken coop behind our house, so hopefully we won’t have to buy them and I’ll have my own eggs, and I think that adds up to the cost,” said the 46-year-old public school teacher. while shopping at HarvestsTime Foods on the city’s North Side. “For me, it’s more about environmental impact and trying to buy locally.”
In some places, even finding eggs on the shelves can be difficult. But egg supplies are generally stagnant, as the total flock is about 5% below its normal size of 320 million hens. Farmers try to replace their herds as soon as possible after an outbreak.
Jakob Werner, 18, said he tries to find the cheapest eggs he can because he eats five to six eggs a day while trying to gain weight and build muscle.
“For some time, I stopped eating because the price of eggs increased. “But I ended up going back to them because they were my favorite foods,” says Werner, who lives in Chicago. “So I think I stopped eating eggs for a few months, I waited for the price to come down. He never did. I’m buying it again now.”
Jayson Lusk, an agricultural economist at Purdue University, said he believes the bird flu outbreak is the biggest reason for the price increases. Unlike previous years, the virus persisted throughout the summer and resurfaced last fall, infecting egg and poultry farms.
But he said bird flu remains a wild card that could drive up prices if larger outbreaks occur on egg farms.
Farmers do their best to limit the spread, but the disease is easily spread by migrating wild birds, and the virus can be carried on clothes or vehicles.
“But there are some things that are out of our control,” Thompson said. “Sometimes you can’t control nature.”
Food manufacturers and restaurants suffer because it is difficult to find a good substitute for eggs in their recipes.
Any drop in egg prices at Patti Stobaugh’s two restaurants and two bakeries in Conway and Russellville, Arkansas, is welcomed because all 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.
Over the past year, a case of 15 eggs has dropped from $36 to $86, but flour, butter, chicken and everything else he buys are more expensive. Stobaugh said it made him “hypervigilant about every little thing.”
It has already increased its prices by 8% in the last year and may have to increase again soon. It’s a delicate balance of trying not to make it too expensive for people to eat out and hurt sales, but he doesn’t have much of a choice when trying to provide for his 175 employees.
“We have a lot of employees working for us and we are responsible for payroll every week and supporting their families. We take this very seriously. But it’s certainly been tough,” Stobaugh said.