Egg-flation: Prices explode thanks to bird flu and scrambled supply chains
Families are shelling out much more for eggs.
Egg prices are soaring much faster than the overall inflation that is wracking the economy.
Prices for all food items have risen 11.4% in the 12 months ending in August, according to the consumer price index. Meat, poultry, and fish prices have increased by 8.8% on average, but egg prices have left all of them in the dust, rising a whopping 39.8% from just a year ago.
A number of factors have played into the surging price of the daily staple. First, the price has risen as part of overall inflation.
For instance, electricity prices are up 15.8%, meaning that egg farmers are paying more for lighting and automating facilities. The higher cost of gas to move the eggs to the grocery store also adds price pressure.
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But egg prices have also been driven up by the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza, also known as bird flu.
This year has marked a historic outbreak of the virus, with the first case of bird flu in a commercial or backyard flock since the 2014-2015 outbreak occurring in February in a commercial turkey meat operation.
Since then, there have been 468 detections across the United States this year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. Spring hit commercial farmers hard as wild birds migrated north and spread bird flu along the way.
“We’ve seen record-high prices in turkeys and eggs for that matter,” said American Farm Bureau Federation Economist Bernt Nelson. “And that really comes from some disruptions we’ve had in supply as we’ve had avian influenza that gave us some trouble in the spring, now starting to come back a little bit in the fall.”
While demand doesn’t appear to have slowed for eggs — they wind up on the breakfast tables of families across the country daily — production has been slower than usual throughout the year, meaning that the shorter supply can result in rising prices.
Egg production in America totaled 9.10 billion during August, down 2% from last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chickens and eggs report. The total number of egg-laying hens in America was 372 million, down 3% from 2021.
While eggs are a relatively inexpensive food item, the massive increase in average prices and the volume of eggs that are consumed in some houses makes the sharp rise quite noticeable to many consumers.
As of the most recent week, a dozen large white eggs ran shoppers $2.33 per carton, according to data from the USDA. Brown eggs cost a bit more than that.
This year’s price hikes might equate to only cents on the dollar per carton, but given the frequency of purchase, some families might be stuck with a big chunk of their grocery bill eaten away by egg inflation.
If last year a dozen eggs cost a family of six $1.67 per carton and they consumed five cartons per week on average, the cost would add up to just over $434 in spending per year. With a nearly 40% increase since last year, at the current price of $2.33 per carton, they would be shelling out about $606 per year on eggs, a difference of some $172.
Bird flu hasn’t just affected egg prices — it has also caused turkey prices to soar as the U.S. approaches Thanksgiving, when turkey is in hot demand.
Frozen, Grade A whole young hen, 8-16 pounds, registered at $1.72 per pound early last month, representing a 20% increase from the same time last year when the price was $1.44 per pound. Fresh boneless, skinless tom turkey breasts broke a record of $6.70 per pound in the middle of last month, more than double what it was that same time last year.
While the number of bird flu detections fell in the summer, it has ticked up a bit as the fall approaches. However, there have so far been fewer average detections than what was seen in the spring, according to a report by the AFBF. That is a welcome development for turkey and egg producers, as well as for consumers who purchase those goods.
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“Fewer turkeys raised combined with strong demand, inflation and growing demands on food systems have led to record high prices for turkey and other poultry products such as table eggs,” the report read.
“The good news is fall HPAI detections are well below spring numbers,” it continued. “While there should be enough turkeys to go around for Thanksgiving, pressure will keep prices high with supplies forecasted lower and demand forecasted higher for 2023.”