These days, breaking an egg is like breaking the bank. The cost of the cooking ingredient and staple food nearly doubled from December 2021 to December 2022, from $1.82 for a dozen to nearly $3.60, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, the price of a box has cracked $5.50 in the Midwest and $7 in California.
There’s a word for why you’re crying into your breakfast omelet baked with the precious yolks of the new liquid gold of 2023: it’s called “eggflation.”
We are all familiar with last year’s inflationary woes, caused by the supply chain devastation caused by COVID-19 and the war between Russia and Ukraine, but despite near-double-digit national inflation, the rising cost of eggs far exceeded that of other commodities. consumer goods, such as milk, bread, lettuce and cheese. Hence the need to invent a term for this unique brand of shopper anxiety.
There is also a reason for inflation, and that is . . . good . . . sick.
In short, don’t cry for your wallet, cry for the chickens – they’re dying, which is why eggs are so painfully expensive now. Early last year, as humans recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic and ventured out again, birds struggled. The winged population was hit by an outbreak of the deadly bird flu, which has wiped out flocks of chickens and turkeys across the country.
The disease is super contagious and extremely deadly, often killing 90% to 100% of chickens it infects within 48 hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Egg-laying breeds are particularly susceptible, causing farmers to have far fewer chickens in the barn. (The price of chicken meat has been spared, however, for the sad reason that “broilers” raised to be eaten just don’t live long enough to be decimated by the avian flu.)
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the American Egg Board, a farmer-funded group that markets eggs, about 60 million birds have been lost to the disease since February, and of those, about 43 million were laying hens. Even worse, if one chicken tests positive for the disease, farmers could be required to put down their entire herd, under federal rules to prevent the spread of pathogens. While farmers have gone to great lengths to rebuild their herds and have succeeded to some extent – in December there were 308 million laying hens in the United States, a number only 20 million lower than the previous year – are customers still feeling the pressure.
And the relative lack of supply is not the only factor in the rising cost of eggs: other inflation matters as well. The cost of birdseed to feed the chickens, fuel to transport the eggs, and energy to keep the right things hot and the right things cold are all also increasing, adding to higher price tags on supermarket shelves.
Like a recipe for disaster, these limiting factors have mixed with a rising demand for eggs in recent months. During the winter holiday season, Americans start baking more like clockwork: They practice perfecting their pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas cookies for Santa. And let’s not forget that eggs are one of food’s most versatile ingredients: they can be used in sweet, savory, whipped, dense, raw, crunchy, boiled, stir-fried, soup or ice cream dishes, making them perfect for any course of any family, friends, office, church, banquet or restaurant party. The high price tags have not deterred buyers either. Eggs are a pantry staple. Historically, even as their price rises, customers remain loyal – after all, eggs are still the cheapest protein.
But now that peak demand is over, experts expect egg prices to rise like humpty-dumpty, and… well… fall. Some predict that high prices could last through March, but most agree the worst is probably over.
Still, it would be best not to, uh, count your chickens before they hatch, because this ordeal has already been an outlier. Bird flu outbreaks usually occur during the birds’ spring migration and disappear in the summer, experts told news outlets, but last year the virus resurfaced in September. (It’s not just the US, either, Britain and Japan fell victim too.) As one egg trade strategist told TBEN, it’s “‘act of God’ kind of stuff.” You never know.
The “Eggflation” post is the new name for your grocery store pain. This is the reason it first appeared on Fast Company.